SMS: more than just the latest buzzword for bizav

 - June 2, 2008, 8:42 AM

If you regard safety management systems as just the latest fad for corporate aviation flight departments, think again, Daedalus Aviation Services president David Bjellos told the nearly 450 attendees at the 53rd Corporate Aviation Safety Seminar (CASS), which was held early last month in Palm Harbor, Fla. Emphasizing SMS’s importance, almost every presentation at CASS was about SMS or mentioned the topic in some shape or form.

The FAA, via AC 190-92, defines an SMS as “a quality management approach to controlling risk. It also provides the organizational framework to support a sound safety culture.” In practice, it’s a way for a flight department internally to capture previously unreported incidents or safety concerns so they can be addressed in a proactive manner.

But the key to any SMS is no fear of retribution for those submitting these incidents or concerns. “A blame culture and an open reporting culture can’t coexist,” noted University of Southern California instructor Mike Barr. Many flight departments simply opt to allow crew-members to submit hazard information anonymously so blame can’t be assigned to a specific person.

SMSs are currently voluntary in the U.S., but “at some point they will be mandatory for Part 121 and 135 operators,” FAA SMS program coordinator Rick Krens said during a panel discussion on SMSs. In fact, the FAA is working on Ops Specs for safety management systems and is updating AC 90-192; the latter could be released within the next three months, he said.

Part 91 operators, however, should not assume that they’re off the hook when
it comes to SMSs, several presenters at CASS warned. According to Krens, SMSs could be a requirement for entry into some foreign countries starting in 2010, per ICAO Annex 6 section 3.2.4. In the not-too-distant future, an “SMS acceptable to the state” could be just as important as aircraft occupants’ having the required visas and passports for entry into a country.

But there is a gray area in what constitutes an “acceptable” SMS, noted Flight Safety Foundation manager of safety audits Darol Holsman. He believes that flight departments that have passed an International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO) audit will be accepted automatically since a safety management system is a required element of IS-BAO. The problem is that only 107 flight departments have passed an IS-BAO audit. The only alternative, Holsman said, is for each individual country to approve an operator’s safety management system.

For Part 91 operators, an SMS can form the basis of the company’s safety efforts, but employees–as well as company management–must buy into the program, noted Harley-Davidson aviation department safety team leader Maria Jeanmarie. When the flight department implemented an SMS in 2004, she said the first order of business was to communicate the benefits to flight crews and reward them for participating.

Harley-Davidson developed its SMS as a standalone safety initiative. “IS-BAO is not needed for SMS,” Jeanmarie told CASS attendees. She said that the system’s methodology depends on the type of equipment being operated, geographical areas of operation and personnel composition. “An SMS should be specific to your operation,” she noted.

Reflecting Harley-Davidson’s small, two-aircraft flight department, its SMS takes a low-technology approach–flight crews submit paper hazard identification and tracking forms and Jeanmarie, who is also a Hawker 800 captain, inputs them into a computerized spreadsheet. Flight department leaders review the submissions monthly during risk-awareness program sessions and then make necessary operating changes or disseminate information to crews as needed.

General Electric Corporate Air Transport’s SMS uses a more high-tech approach since the flight department has eight aircraft and 90 employees, said aviation safety manager Matt Dengler. Its safety management system was developed as part of its larger goal of obtaining IS-BAO certification. The flight department eschews paper for a computer-based submission system, not to mention that it also evaluates the data using an elaborate safety-management software program.

Jeanmarie and Dengler credited their respective SMSs with enhancing safety at their flight departments. While Harley-Davidson had only eight reports submitted last year, it still made several changes that have improved safety at the flight department. GE’s department gets substantially more submissions since it flies
more aircraft and conducts more international operations.

“Safety must permeate everything that you do,” concluded Barr. “You can’t have prevention without change.” And, he said, SMS is a platform to identify what needs to be changed so that potential accidents can be avoided in the future.