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What Should Be the Number One KPI in the Aviation Business?

Posted by Christopher Howell on May 2, 2019 6:01:00 AM Find me on:

Questions on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for Aviation

What Should Be the Number One KPI in the Aviation Business?

Aviation safety professionals frequently email our subject matter experts (SMEs) for opinions regarding aviation safety management systems (SMS) and advice as to managing key performance indicators (KPIs). Goal setting relating to key performance indicators is also another very common thread we are asked about.

In the case that follows, I was asked:

"If I were to join the one KPI on Quality & Safety for a CEO in the Aviation business, what would you recommend me to suggest? My intention is to open this in the CEO’s KPIs as a performance target. Please assist if you can and thank you in anticipation!"

Related Aviation SMS KPI Articles

So what is the number 1 KPI in the aviation business relating to safety and quality? I'll tell you what it is!

Hazard Reporting Metrics Remains at Top of KPI List

The top KPI for any aviation SMS is number of safety issues reported by employees and stakeholders. I mentioned "hazard reporting" because that is a term everyone understands. But don't get hung up with the term" hazard reporting."

Let's expand hazard reporting to "safety issue reporting." According to the FAA, the objective of aviation SMS is to:

  • proactively manage safety,
  • identify potential hazards,
  • determine risk, and
  • implement measures that mitigate the risk.

The FAA expects aviation service providers to use all four components of their implemented SMS to enhance operators' capability to identify safety issues and potential safety trends before adverse conditions result in a near-miss, incident, or accident. In order to identify safety trends, the SMS needs to collect, store, organize and retrieve sufficient amounts of safety data to perform trend analysis activities.

Two principle areas to focus SMS data collection efforts center around:

  • Reported safety issues from employees and stakeholders; and
  • Safety audit findings from internal and external audits.

In order to collect a sufficient number of safety reports to establish statistical relevance, safety teams need to engage both employees and stakeholders in the aviation SMS. For this, your safety promotion activities will need to regularly encourage employees to report any type of issue relating to:

  • Safety;
  • Security;
  • Quality;
  • Compliance; and
  • Environmental.

KPIs Best Practices Quiz

Safety & Quality Departments Need Reports to Improve Operations

The most significant amounts of "useful" trending analytical data flows from these reported safety issues. There is no way to set goals if data is not captured, risk assessed and classified according to classification schemes relating to your industry segment, whether you are an:

  • Airline;
  • Airport;
  • Aviation Maintenance Organization;
  • Flight School;
  • FBO; or
  • Air Navigation Service Provider.

Every effective aviation SMS needs safety issues to process that result from stakeholders' hazard identification and safety reporting activity. As I always preach, get employees to report anything that may have an effect on operational

  • quality;
  • security; or
  • safety.

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Safety Promotion Most Neglected Pillar of Aviation SMS

I've been fortunate to have worked with hundreds of aviation companies and their SMS implementations over the past dozen years. They have taught me very much, and I continue to learn from them.

During this time, we have witnessed over 500 individual companies as they work to implement an aviation SMS into their organizations. Some I've worked with very closely, while others were very brief. I should note that those that were brief were due to:

  • Lack of top management support; and
  • A safety culture not receptive to change.

In every SMS that I've seen a lack of top management support or a poor safety culture, these companies' SMS fail. Top management support includes providing budget for tools. With adequate tools, aviation safety managers have the time and energy to cover all four pillars of an aviation SMS.

When safety managers are overworked, they are spending inordinate amounts of time

  • preparing SMS documentation;
  • collecting data; and
  • generating reports (pretty pictures that may not even be used) for management.

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In cases of disorganized or inadequate SMS data management strategies, safety managers have no time for creative thought processes, such as motivating employees to report safety concerns. In fact, without proper risk management tools, safety managers dread getting safety reports into the system because they mean so much more work. An effective SMS requires efficient risk management processes that do not slow to a crawl due to substandard SMS documentation capabilities.

One case that I'll never forget is when a Canadian safety manager told me that their department heads tell their employees to not report issues because it is too much extra paperwork. When managers have proper SMS documentation tools, you don't have to be afraid of getting reports in the SMS' risk management system. In fact, you are welcoming these reports because your operation will be safer and the quality of operations will improve. And let's not forget, we need enough safety reports to achieve statistical significance.

Without regular safety promotion activities to encourage employees to report, your SMS implementation becomes "a wasted opportunity and expense." You are wasting an opportunity to:

  • Save money from damaged or lost tools and equipment;
  • Improve morale because employees appreciate an open, transparent culture;
  • Reduce lost time accidents; and
  • Improve quality of operations from strengthened operational processes.

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Employees Know What in the Hell Is Going On

The further a manager is away from the line-level employees, the less he knows what is really happening within the organization. Line-level employees become subject matter experts as they perform their daily activities year after year. They have ideas that may save you money, or make your operation:

  • More secure;
  • Safer; or
  • More environmentally responsible.

Without reported safety issues, an aviation SMS cannot improve operational processes. That is why hazard reporting should be your number one KPI in the aviation business. Every safety and quality manager in the aviation industry should be familiar with the best practices of hazard identification. These best practices should be strongly promoted to upper management first, and then let these best practices flood down to the line-level employees.


Do you have the tools necessary to really benefit from an aviation SMS implementation? An SMS implementation does not have to become a documentation management nightmare. Low-cost, commercially available SMS databases increase safety teams' efficiency and ability to provide more safety-related services to stakeholders.

Do you need help putting your SMS into proper order and turning your SMS into a profit driver?

Are you ready to embrace an integrated safety and quality program? Below are some short demo videos to show you what SMS auditors like to see in an aviation SMS. In SMS Pro, all SMS documentation is in one location. Furthermore, there are user-friendly tools that add risk management decision-making value to all managerial levels.

Watch SMS Pro Demo Videos

Maybe you just need a great list of KPIs!

Download KPIs for Airlines

Published November 2016. Last updated in May 2019.

Topics: Key Performance Indicators

Site content provided by Northwest Data Solutions is meant for informational purposes only. Opinions presented here are not provided by any civil aviation authority or standards body.

 

 

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