What is a safety management system (SMS)?

Safety management systems are crucial in the aviation industry and are regulated by various organizations such as the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and national civil aviation authorities (CAA). In addition, safety management is required for all sectors in aviation.

The components of a safety management system

A safety management system consists of four main components: safety policy, safety risk management, safety assurance and safety promotion which provide a systematic approach to achieve an acceptable level of safety.

The safety policy provides clear objectives for safety and defines the methods and structures to ensure these objectives.

The second pillar, safety risk management, aims to identify the potential hazards and assesses the risks.

Safety assurance evaluates the effectiveness of the risk control system in place and is therefore crucial for identifying potential new hazards. It is heavily data-driven and depends on audits and assessments.

Safety promotion includes all training activities to strengthen a positive safety culture in the company.

Safety risk management and safety assurance are the key processes of SMS and are highly interdependent.

SMS in the airline industry

Safety management systems have become mandatory worldwide for flight operations in March 2006. The whole concept of safety management systems has evolved from guidelines and prototypes that were pioneered in the airline industry in the early 1990s.

The implementation of a safety management system is of paramount importance for any flight operation as it guarantees the survival of the company. Only with a watertight SMS can safety performance be continuously improved. A significant role in enforcing and promoting the safety management system is played by aviation consulting and compliance management.

There are various bodies worldwide that have developed SMS requirements over the years:

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) was founded at the Chicago Convention in 1944 and is an association of 193 national governments working together and focusing on air transport. The emphasis is on diplomatic interactions with different states by the ICAO Secretariat. It is concerned with developing new standards for air travel.

It looks at the technical, political, and socio-economic aspects of flying and formulates advice, international standards, and recommendations for international civil aviation. ICAO also has seven regional offices that serve as a coordination platform for civil aviation. ICAO’s other areas of expertise include training audits and capacity building worldwide. However, it has no authority over national governments.

The annexes to the Chicago Convention include the Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPS) and the implementation of a safety management system, so that aircraft operators, air navigation service providers and airport operators as well as training organizations and aircraft manufacturers have a safety management system in place.

In Europe, safety management systems and air traffic fall under the purview of the European Commission, which relies on Eurocontrol’s safety regulations.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has considered the ICAO proposals on safety management systems.

The European Commission regulation, EU-OPS 1.037 “Accident prevention and flight safety programme”, includes the need of an accident prevention and flight safety program that must be integrated into the quality system. This encompasses programs for risk awareness for all persons involved in operations. It also specifies an occurrence reporting scheme so that accidents and incidents can be reported and analysed to further flight safety. Furthermore, reports can be submitted anonymously.

Another aspect is the evaluation of relevant information about incidents and accidents without attribute and blame. It also specifies that all aeroplanes more than 27,000 kg MCTOM require a flight data monitoring program that is non-punitive and protects the sources of the data. It also addresses the need for safety managers in flight operations.

The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has clarified post Brexit that the safety plan for UK Civil Aviation must comply with the general UK SMS standards. The SMS requirements include the need for an industry safety culture with an emphasis on risk identification and management.

In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is addressing the implementation of international standards and is working to implement safety regulations that are consistent with ICAO standards. FAA Advisory Circular No. 120-92B has introduced the concept of SMS to various air operators, and FAA A.C. No. 150/5200-37 has provided guidance for implementing SMS in aerodrome operations.

Document control in safety management systems

Document management is an important aspect of a safety management system as it makes sure that all documents are appropriately created, reviewed, and controlled. A professional documentation must include policy objectives as well as monitoring and measuring.

Documents must be locatable and accessible at any point, as well as legible and maintained in an orderly manner. With a professional Document Management System, the compliance with these requirements is guaranteed.