Where Is SMS Going
The Safety Management System (SMS) in aviation is has since its infancy taken many twists and turns to find a path forward. SMS started out as an idea of how aviation should manage safety and for the system to be integrated into a functional safety system in the operations. Prior to SMS safety was managed by the “safety card”, or an opinion-based safety solution process. With this in mind, the onset of SMS forced airlines and airport operators to revamp their safety structure and change their approach to safety 180 degrees.
|Without taking ownership of SMS direction for success is only random|
SMS will be going in the direction of what direction the aviation industry wants it to take. It is therefore crucial that high-level leaders understand and comprehend their SMS and policies they are drafting. SMS is unlike older safety systems in that it does not force safety onto operators, but rather identifies to operators if they drift away from or remains on the path towards their objectives and goals. SMS is designed to be a fluid system and adjust to operational needs. Regulatory oversight bodies and the aviation industry are both affected by external pressure from the public, from the industry itself and from political polices of how to regulatory shape the SMS. Just a short time after SMS became a regulatory requirement for all operators, the smaller on-demand and charter only operators were excluded from operating with an SMS. This was the first time the aviation industry mapped the SMS landscape and chose their path of least resistance.
|The path to a successful SMS is a balancing act.|
|Without a quality control path, the SMS is wavering|
Where SMS is going is difficult to predict since there are special cause variations that will affect its path. The path it must take is the path of incremental safety improvements for both airlines and airports. Over time it will be possible to identify drift away the desired and projected path. When drift is identified it becomes possible to make incremental corrections of operational processes to change course or move back onto the path. Drift in itself is not necessarily undesirable or an unsafe change, but often a change because the planned systems and processes were impractical. The unsafe portion of drift is when the drift itself remains unidentified.
The first stage of drift at the operational level is for a process to self-adjusts to a practical process; e.g. a pilot changing from IFR to a visual approach in VFR conditions. Eventually this drift was identified and integrated as a standard process. The second part of drift is at the management or organizational level where complacency drives the processes. Social media also has a major impact on the SMS decision-making process. Social media is free advertising for special interest groups, including support groups for a healthy Safety Management System.
When assessing the future of where SMS Is Going one must reflect on the past path. It is reasonable to assess that the past path of SMS, becomes a forward-looking guidance of the path to come in the future. By laying out the path from the past drift can be monitored and adjusted if the drift is undesirable. SMS is a system which cannot fail since it paints a true picture of an enterprise. For several reasons there were opposition to SMS from the industry and the regulator when the SMS regulations first was implemented. Some of the opposition was reasonable and relevant to the facts, while other were emotional and irrelevant to facts. Within a short time, surveys were designed to fail the SMS. An example is the CBC News article posted on April 14, 2014 about SMS; “A survey of Canada’s aviation inspectors shows they are increasingly concerned about aviation safety because of Transport Canada rules that leave responsibility for setting acceptable levels of risk up to the airlines. The survey, conducted by Abacus Data on behalf of the Canadian Federal Pilots Association (CFPA), indicates 67 per cent of Canadian aviation inspectors believe the current system increases the risk of a major aviation accident, up from 61 per cent in 2007.” Today is 2021, and we now know that 67% were wrong at that time. There has not been a major aviation accident being contributed to the SMS since the survey. Human factors has not changed and it is reasonable to assume that when opinions about SMS is applied, as opposed to data and facts, 67% will be wrong in the future.
There was one simple reason why SMS was made a regulatory requirement some years ago. The reason was an understanding that their old aviation oversight system was not capable of preventing accidents. It was also understood that operators, both airlines and airports, did not have a regulatory tool available to prevent accidents until SMS became available. A friend of mine once said: “As long as the regulatory authorities don't receive feedback from operators (as it is now in many countries), and safety accountability is not practiced and not even understood or taken seriously, the SMS will still generate data, but I cannot imagine or would say if it would be worth data; i.e. proactive data.“ This is so true. Data will be pouring in and stored without assessment or considerations. The test today to lay out the path for the NexGen SMS, is to apply the WINK test, or the What I Now Know test. If I had known then, what I now know, what would I have done different about SMS and then apply this comprehension to the NextGen SMS path.
|Comprehending SMS is a process.|