The Practical Compliance Gap
When the Safety Management System was first implemented one of the reasons was to keep the Regulator away from interfering with operations of both airlines and airports. It worked well in the beginning, but after a while the Regulator reverted to Pre-SMS to micromanage safety compliance rather than regulatory compliance. This is best described in the Regulator’s own words saying “To be direct, [the Department] has a number of concerns surrounding [Your Amazing Airport / Airline], not only from a regulatory perspective...”
|You are in charge to the degree you can keep the glass ½ empty|
There is a great danger to aviation safety when the Regulator believe they comprehend your operations better than you do yourself. In addition, the Regulatory has turned away from a Safety Management System in their own words, by being the rule-maker, enforcer and judge. Again, this can best be described in their own words. “Our role at [the Department] is to monitor for regulatory compliance which can take various forms, additionally we can provide regulatory interpretation.” What is crucial to safety in operations is that every operator develops their own plan. However, what most operators do, being Airports or Airlines, they succumb to the Regulator’s non-regulatory demands.
"...Regulators believe they comprehend your operations better than you do..."
Aviation Safety blogposts write about airline and airline safety while airports and airport safety is often forgotten in this equation. The safety of each flight originates and terminates at an airport. It’s not just a pilot’s decision to take safety actions, it’s also the role and responsibility of an Accountable Executive at any airport. A memorable example is the Concorde accident in 2000 were the runway hazard was assessed as being low and an acceptable risk. Airport compliance is based on ICAO Annex 14 Airport Standards, which contains about 200 Standards. Airport Standards and Airport Certificate are applicable to the land it sits on and within surveyed limits. In addition, there is no certificate requirement for an airport manager or airport operator. Without a certificate attached to the operator, the Regulator’s option for certificate action against an airport operator is not exciting.
|The Regulatory Compliance Gap is to be bridged not closed|
It is impractical for an Enterprise to operate an airport or airline without a gap between operations and regulatory compliance. This is the Practical Compliance Gap. The Practical Compliance Gap exist for one reason, which is that regulatory compliance is only available to a static state operations. Let’s take a moment and compare an airline pilot and an airport operator. When operating at night, both an airplane and airport are required to have functioning lights. Should the lights go out in an airborne airplane, with an official inspector onboard, the flight crew is expected to return to the airport at that time. As long as the flight crew returns to the airport, a regulatory violation finding is not issued to the flight crew or airline. The inspector applied the Practical Compliance Gap, even if both flight crew and operator were in non-compliance with the lights out. Let’s then assume that this same airplane is now a perfectly complaint airplane is returning to the airport as scheduled. Then, just a few seconds before the airplane touches down, all runway lights fail, and the airfield becomes dark. At this point the Practical Compliance Gap is not accepted by the inspector who issues a finding to the airport operator for regulatory non-compliance. The difference is that an airport remains a static state at all the times, while an airplane is in motion. Compliance is discriminating against a static-state operations. When the Regulatory don’t apply the Practical Compliance Gap, there is no room for continuous improvements since any improvements could fail and status quo becomes the preferred state of operations.
Airport standards and regulations are comprehensive with a million shades of gray. When the Regulators and Airport Operators are interpreting the gray shades differently, there is a conflict, which the Regulator always will win, no matter how unsafe that will make airport operations.
The beauty of SMS is to accept the risk by reducing likelihood.
The beauty of the Safety Management System is that it addresses the Practical Compliance Gap. Should a Regulator observe a non-compliance, as airplane lights or runway lights, there are no other option but to issue a finding. It’s beyond a Regulator’s mandate to overlook or ignore. What the Safety Management System, or the SMS Voluntary Program allow for, is for the operator to develop a Corrective Action Plan to reduce the likelihood of these types of malfunctions happening again. Within an SMS the CAP options must be made available to all Enterprises. The Regulator does not have the mandate to apply CAP options selectively and favor operators. In ICAO States without a regulatory SMS the CAP options are not available, and malfunctions are also sometimes criminalized. The Safety Management System understand that there is no such thing that an incident occurred due to failure to comply with a process, procedure or directives. An SMS comprehends the fact that incidents happens due to the limitations within the likelihood. It’s the responsibility of an operator to take control of the likelihood. Remember, “If you don't design Your Amazing Airport / Airline plan, chances are you'll fall into someone else's plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much,"