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Understanding Importance of Interfaces in Aviation SMS

Posted by Christopher Howell on Sep 22, 2020 6:00:00 AM Find me on:

What Are Interfaces in Aviation Operations?

Understanding Importance of Interfaces in Aviation Safety Management Systems (SMS)

Besides the expected airlines and airport operations, the interacting relationships across modern airports encompass many aviation industry segments, including:

  • Ground handling companies;
  • Fixed based operators (FBOs);
  • AMOs;
  • Security operations;
  • Air traffic control;
  • Charter operators; and
  • Private operators.

There may not be a clearly identified area of responsibility among these actors for monitoring, identifying and treating hazards.

Per ICAO Safety Management Manual (SMM), Document 9859 4th edition,

"Safety risks faced by service providers are affected by interfaces. Interfaces can be either internal (e.g. between departments) or external (e.g. other service providers or contracted services,). By identifying and managing these interfaces the service provider will have more control over any safety risks related to the interfaces."

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Interfaces in Complex vs Simple Operations

Interface management naturally emerges from the "total system safety approach." Per ICAO's Doc 9859:

A total system safety approach considers the entire aviation industry as a system. All service providers, and their systems for the management of safety, are considered as sub-systems.

Since operators within the "system" exist in all shapes and sizes, these operators will naturally be managing their safety initiatives in unique ways. There can be no "perfect way" to harmoniously manage the complex, safety relationship web in this shifting arena of inter-dependent organizations. The ever-present challenge remains for operators to correctly identify and efficiently manage safety relationships of their interfaces.

Simple operators naturally recognize their interfaces more completely than complex operators. Simple operations may have only a handful or two. However, with more complex operations, the number of interfaces rapidly increases depending on the

  • size and scope of operations;
  • geographical regions (local, regional, global); and
  • political factors.

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How to Identify Interfaces

Interfaces may not always be obvious. For example, who reports safety or environmental concerns to your organization? These interfaces may include your vendors, contractors or local law enforcement.

As you start considering interfaces in your "system," don't become alarmed by this additional complexity.

Consider your operations:

Who performs activities that may introject risk into your operations?

Who helps your organization manage this identified risk?

Who maintains authority in respect to managing the associated hazards?

Displaying a complete interface list in the middle of initial aviation safety audits will seldom happen. A company will never have a complete list in the beginning of the SMS implementation process. Furthermore, your list of interfaces will continually change. No company operates in a static environment; therefore, you will regularly update these lists as your company and operating environment evolves.

Related Articles on Aviation SMS Audits

Interfaces in Emergency Response Plans

Your emergency response plan (ERP) offers another insight into interfaces.

While coordinating your ERP with the ERP of other organizations, you must develop, manage and nurture these interfaces as your organization delivers services to your stakeholders. For example, in the case of an emergency, who do you contact and why do you need to contact this interface?

Download emergency response plan checklist for aviation SMS

This is simply a taste of what you should be considering. Other considerations include:

  • What role(s) does each interface play in your safety risk management processes?
  • How critical is this interface to your business mission?
  • Which operational hazards are associated with each interface?
  • Are these interfaces your subject matter experts and are they critical to restoring operations after an emergency?

Related Emergency Response Plan Articles

Why More Focus Interfaces in Aviation SMS Documentation?

In every aviation safety management system (SMS), safety managers must gather, organize, document and maintain SMS information. There are no requirements for a sophisticated SMS data management system; therefore, whether you maintain your SMS documentation in paper or electronic form is dependent on many variables, including:

  • Size and complexity of the organization;
  • Safety culture;
  • Budget;
  • Safety management team's time and organizational capabilities; and
  • Client contractual requirements.

Your aviation SMS documentation may reside in paper, spreadsheets or complex SMS databases. Nevertheless, you are still expected to describe your organization's safety-related risk management processes and procedures, as well as identify interfaces interacting between these processes and procedures.

Do the above activities sound like your "system description?" Yes, you are correct. Interfaces are initially identified during Phase of of the SMS implementation. 

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Realizing Opportunities by Expanding Scope of Interfaces Beyond Safety

One must consciously fight the natural tendency to put on the myopic, my-company-only, safety blinders when considering interfaces. The more actors on the field identifying and reporting hazards increases the level of safety for everyone.

Let's expand the concept of interfaces' value even further than your immediate, company safety initiatives. Management is also wise to consider interfaces with other types of concern besides safety--including, but not limited to:

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

Advanced interface management strategies provide more benefits than simply reducing operational risk, which is huge in itself!

In the perfect world, all stakeholders become involved in identifying hazards. This shared responsibility and duty to act can prevent accidents through both reactive and proactive hazard identification and subsequent management of these related safety risks.

As stated, understanding your interfaces avails your organization to safety benefits that may not have been visible otherwise. This knowledge of interfaces, and their inter-process organizational relationships facilitates both:

  • more informed decision making processes; and
  • increased operational efficiencies from increased opportunities.

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Operational and Safety Advantages of Focusing on Interfaces

As stated, there are multiple advantages for identifying and documenting your interfaces. For example, your organization's management team will gain a better understanding of:

  • your safety-related interfaces and your relationship to these interfaces;
  • their role in your risk management processes, such as identifying and reporting hazards;
  • how these interfaces interact with or within your organization during the delivery of your services; and
  • your organization's business process.

Intimately understanding how your organization interacts with interfaces allows management to both

  1. thoroughly review processes and procedures; and
  2. effectively identify opportunities to improve operational efficiencies.

This intimate knowledge is key to understanding everyone's role in identifying and mitigating risk to as low as reasonably practical (ALARP).

Are you now seeing how important interfaces are to your proactive hazard analysis activities?

Next Steps for Managing Interfaces More Effectively

During the system description, safety teams identify and list interfaces in a Word document. This a mere first step, but most operators don't get beyond identifying interfaces in their safety risk management processes. Sure, there may be the perfunctory mandatory report submission to regulators and contracting agencies. Yet much more can be realized.

An integrated data management strategy maximizes opportunities from interfaces from within an aviation SMS database. SMS Pro has some very robust integrations. For example, managers can identify and associate interfaces with each hazard in the proactive hazard analysis process. But this is just scratching the surface.

To learn more how your interfaces can interact with your aviation SMS implementation, check out these short demo videos of SMS Pro.

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Topics: 2-Safety Risk Management

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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