Safety Management Systems: Revolution or Evolution?

This was the slogan of the 2008 US/EU Aviation Safety Conference in Florida, in June. The two biggest aviation regulatory bodies in the world, the FAA and EASA, are working towards a mutual recognition and harmonisation of requirements and acceptance criteria.

Safety Management Systems (SMS) are the new challenge for global aviation authorities. SMS is an ICAO requirement to improve flight safety through a streamlined approach. SMS introduces the "performance regulation concept" that is intended to work hand-in-hand with the classic prescriptive approach.

But, what is an SMS?

  • A systematic approach to managing safety, including the necessary organisational structures, accountabilities, policies and procedures.
  • Providers (i.e. Air Traffic Service Providers) are responsible for establishing an SMS.
  • States are responsible for the acceptance and oversight of providers of SMS.

The SMS requirement is already included in ICAO annexes 6, 8, 11, 14, and soon also in annexes 1, and 13. The issue for pilots is that as of January 2009, all AOC holders must implement an SMS in line with ICAO requirements. Unfortunately the regulation developed by EASA to address SMS is behind schedule and the new "EASA Management Systems Regulation" is not expected to be ready before autumn 2009.

What are the next steps? The European Commercial Aviation Safety Team (ECAST) hosted by EASA has created a dedicated SMS Working Group to try to gather best practices and disseminate this to the European Aviation Industry. ECA is one of the stakeholders included in this WG and I, Gustavo Barba, have the honour to represent European pilots.

SMS implementation and management needs a kind of 'progressive' organisational culture whereas line management deals with day-to-day activities:

  • Are the correct lessons being drawn from actual line experiences and appropriate actions taken?
  • Are appropriate staff involved constructively in this process, or do they feel they are the victims of management's unilateral action?

These are critical questions from ECA's point of view, in order to assess if an organisation really implements an SMS or if there is a 'cosmetic' approach to safety.

ECA has developed the "Three Cornerstones of SMS Integrity", based on the ICAO Safety Management Building Blocks concept. These are necessary steps to be taken before any AOC holder implements an SMS.

All of us must think about these before supporting and participating in an SMS project in order to avoid a cosmetic, not really dedicated approach to safety.

We remain committed to the ICAO and EASA approach to SMS, but with a very clear request to participate actively in it.

Many Happy Landings,
Captain Gustavo Barba Román

The Three Cornerstones of SMS Integrity

  1. Management Accountability
  2. Protection of Sources of Information
  3. Participation of Stakeholders
    • Means foundation of the Safety Management Eight Building Blocks
    • Should be formalized by a MOU between related parties

The result of implementing the eight building blocks: An organizational structure that fosters safe practices, encourages effective safety communication, and actively manages safety with the same attention to results as financial management.