European authorities sharpen safety strategy

 - April 28, 2010, 7:14 AM

Europe’s business aviation community may think it has a good safety record; however, it needs to demonstrate a more structured and statistical approach to maintaining that reputation rather than expecting regulators and the rest of the world just to acknowledge it. This is the message coming from regulators with the advent of the new safety management system (SMS) mandated by the International Civil Aviation Organization, and the industry facing increased market expectations and media scrutiny.

“The quality and standards of safety in aviation generally are staggeringly good, but [business aviation’s] attitude to risk management is not as mature and it needs to make better use of data to assess risk analysis,” declared the UK Civil Aviation Authority’s new CEO Andrew Haines at the recent annual conference of the British Business and General Aviation Association. Haines came to the CAA last year from the UK rail industry, which has had to confront some hard lessons about safety management in the wake of a string of serious accidents in recent years.

At the same conference, Michael Smethers, management board chairman of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), said safety strategy is the next big challenge for Europe’s regulators. “The fact is that general aviation’s safety record in Europe is not as good as that of North America and we need to consider this carefully,” he said.

Safety Session Tomorrow
That subject is on EBACE’s conference agenda tomorrow morning. In a 9:30 to 11 a.m. session on business aviation safety panel members will look at how better use could be made of statistics to monitor and measure safety and how to focus on areas where improvement is needed. Scheduled participants include U.S. safety data expert Bob Breiling, Capt. Simon Williams of the UK CAA and Eurocontrol’s Bengt Collin.

One challenge for Europe is that the SMS mandate has not been as clearly defined by regulators here as it has been in North America and other regions. “Europe has no specific timescale for the implementation of SMS, and EASA is simply encouraging operators to adopt it,” Justin Goatcher, managing director of SMS consultants Avisa, told AIN. Part of the problem is that EASA was given its mandate for regulating aircraft operations only recently, and so is behind in this task.

By contrast, regulators in North America and even offshore jurisdictions, such as the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, are requiring SMS implementation from late this year, at which time EASA is set only to start introducing a more precise regulator timetable for SMS in Europe.

Ambiguity Abounds
In Goatcher’s view, the industry’s challenge in adopting SMS is not made easier by the ambiguity in the regulations and different interpretations of the rules worldwide. In theory, ICAO can audit its member states every two years and can require them to tighten their interpretation and regulation of SMS, but it remains to be seen how effective that will be in practice.

From Avisa’s experience, larger business aircraft operators in Europe are “reasonably” prepared for SMS but smaller operators are not. While Europe’s regulators may be vague in their approach to SMS, market forces are not. Major corporate charter customers, and the leading brokers who serve them, are increasingly insisting that they will do business only with operators that have adopted SMS and can prove it.

“At this stage, companies should be in a position where they have identified an implementation plan and they should have delivered some training,” explained Goatcher. “They should have embarked on the process of identifying the correct SMS procedures and manuals, and should have begun the preparation of safety assessments.”

Companies like UK-based Avisa can help operators get started with SMS by drawing up an implementation plan that identifies gaps in safety management and how the company can close those gaps. Then a detailed SMS manual needs to be prepared with precise procedures for how safety management should work on a daily basis. Avisa and other companies, such as Switzerland-based AeroEx (Booth No. 493), can provide training for operators’ staff. Avisa also can conduct SMS audits after implementation and can serve as the nominated SMS manager for smaller operators.

So does SMS meaningfully contribute to improved aviation safety or is it just a box-ticking exercise for bureaucrats? “SMS requirements formalize what operators do to manage safety,” said Goatcher. “It requires operators to formally review and manage safety from a proactive position. Some operators have good quality systems but this is a reactive process. SMS is all about identifying safety hazards and risk by analyzing data from systems, such as aircraft flight data recorders, rather than waiting for an incident to occur.”

Goatcher expects the SMS momentum to increase in Europe and worldwide. “But the regulations need to be better defined and become more rigorous in the coming years,” he concluded.