Why have an SMS?

Aircraft Low Over The Runway

Experience is the hardest kind of teacher. It gives you the test first and the lessons afterward.

Oscar Wilde

A Safety Management System is a systematic, logical and organised way to manage safety. Safety must be a high priority in every organisation, especially so in aviation where the consequences of safety breaches can be severe. Safety, however, needs to be prioritised in context with other competing aims like efficiency and creating profit or goodwill.  If an organisation devotes all resources to only one priority, it will clearly be at the expense of others.

Too often an SMS is seen only as a compliance obligation, but it is not.  It is an organisational tool like any other. With appropriate implementation, an SMS encourages good management, leadership,  a safety culture, and can improve efficiency. Safety almost becomes a by-product of positive changes within the organisation.

Aviation safety needs to be managed proactively by all actors. Safety management benefits the total aviation system by strengthening traditional risk control practices and ensuring safety risks are managed in a systematic way. Safety management allows room for innovation and flexibility: It is less about describing what to ‘do’ and more about how to ‘achieve safety’.

Patrick Ky – EASA Executive Director

It’s easy to create a Safety Management System, it is much harder to avoid the comfort factor of consensus and complexity.

Read a CASA discussion paper on SMS.

Aviation stakeholders

Commercial Airplane Refueling

Making an informed safety decision involves stakeholder consultation.

Aviation stakeholders include:

  • Aviation professionals
  • Aircraft owners & operators
  • Manufacturers
  • Aviation regulatory authorities
  • Industry trade associations
  • Air traffic service providers
  • Professional associations
  • International aviation organisations
  • Investigative agencies
  • The flying public
  • ???

Humans and errors

Human error, in some form or another, causes all aviation incidents and accidents. Whenever humans are part of a system, errors will occur.  The aim of an SMS is not to eliminate all error, but to create a system where the errors can be managed and contained, avoiding catastrophic consequences.

Errors within a system can be:

  • Reduced by eliminating contributing factors such as design, ergonomics or training
  • Captured by using strategies before consequences – such as checklists, task cards and SOPs
  • Tolerated and managed by introducing system redundancies – such as challenge and response checks

Picture courtesy geograph.org.uk

The aim is to change the work conditions and the environment in which errors occur, not try to eliminate all error (‘Drain the swamp’, not kill all mosquitoes…)

The miners memorial Broken Hill