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The Pace Quickens

Aviation sharpens its focus on SMS.


September 27, 2007
By David Olsen

Topics

337While aviation safety has been the cornerstone of International Civil
Aviation Organization (ICAO) activities since its birth in 1944, recent
activity has been intensely focused on requirements for safety
management systems.

In
March of this year, directors general of civil aviation of 153 ICAO
contracting states met to discuss safety at ICAO HQ in Montreal, and
reaffirmed the ICAO commitment to systematic safety management. A key
decision was to post the ICAO Universal Safety Oversight Audit Program
(USOAP) results on the ICAO public Web site. At the conclusion of the
conference, 70 states, including Canada, had already authorized ICAO to
publish the information, although the deadline for posting results is
not until March 23 in 2008, when states that have failed to meet the
deadline will be listed. The directors general also committed to
“expeditiously implement safety management systems across all
safety-related disciplines to supplement the existing regulatory
framework.”

The ICAO USOAP consists of regular, mandatory,
systematic and harmonized safety audits carried out by ICAO in its 189
contracting states, to assess the level of implementation of ICAO
Standards and Recommended Practices, identify safety concerns or
deficiencies and provide recommendations for their resolution. The
summary safety reports to appear on the ICAO Web site will cover eight
critical areas – aviation legislation, operating regulations, structure
of the civil aviation administration and safety oversight function,
technical guidance material, technical personnel, licensing and
certification obligations, continuing surveillance obligations, and
resolution of safety issues.

Canada has embraced the concept of
safety management systems (SMS) as an integral part of the regulatory
function. Certain states have produced specific guidance documents for
each segment of their aviation industry, such as flight operations,
airports, air traffic management and aircraft maintenance.

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Transport
Canada has recognized this segmentation in amendments to the Canadian
Aviation Regulations. However, Canada and a number of states did not
meet the ICAO deadline of November 24, 2005 for the implementation of
safety management systems at certified aerodromes. The current
implementation dates set by Transport Canada, after discussions with
industry, are:

Aerodromes, Group 1 – November 2006

Aerodromes, Group 2 – June 2007

(Transport
Canada refers to both airports and aerodromes in regulatory material,
while ICAO defines aerodromes only. In Canada, some aerodromes are
certified as airports.)

Many Canadian airports are amalgamating
existing safety management procedures with additional elements
specified in the Transport Canada SMS model. The SMS model is
referenced in TP13881 – Safety Management Systems for Flight Operations
and Aircraft Maintenance Organizations and comprises an SMS overview
and six components. In November 2005 Victoria International Airport
became the first airport in Canada to reorganize, update and document
(in the SMS Manual) the airport Safety Management System in accordance
with the TC SMS model; and Kelowna, one of the fastestgrowing airports
in Canada, is not far behind. Both have worked with aviation
consultants QualaTech Aero Consulting Ltd. which specializes in safety
and human factors issues. Transport Canada has not yet issued guidance
specifically for airports, but airport authorities are directed to
TP14135 – Safety Management Systems for Small Aviation Operations,
which contains the same components as TP13881. However, major airports
such as Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary may not regard
themselves as ‘small’ aviation operations.

The UK has addressed
airport and ATM safety management with specific documents, such as the
widely admired CAP642 – Airside Safety Management and CAP728 – Guidance
to Aerodromes and Air Traffic Service Units on the Development of
Safety Management Systems. The European Union and EUROCONTROL have
adopted a multinational approach to some areas of safety management,
particularly with the publication of “ESARRS” – the Eurocontrol Safety
Regulatory Requirements – which apply to ATM safety throughout Europe.

However,
the blockbuster ‘must have’ document is the newly published ICAO Safety
Management Manual – Doc 9859. The 290-page manual addresses all aspects
of safety management in one volume, including sections on aircraft
operations, airports and air traffic services.

During recent
years, it has been recognized that aviation safety cannot be taken for
granted. Aviation people may assume that because aviation is a
safety-critical environment, and they are conscious of the importance
of safety, then all is well. Unfortunately, this is not always the case!

There
are two constants in civil aviation – fear of flying and human error.
Although many people fly on a weekly or daily basis, most still fly
only a few times a year or less and when there is an aviation accident,
the media coverage is both extensive and graphic and the accidents can
be catastrophic. It is human nature to feel a degree of unease when
turning over control of one’s life to someone else. Many people are
perfectly happy driving a car themselves, but suffer acute anxiety as a
passenger. In a widebody jet aircraft, hundreds of passengers turn over
complete responsibility for their safety to one person – the pilot in
command. As Jim Hall, a previous chairman of the US National
Transportation Safety Board, remarked: “Most of us can walk, most of us
can drive and most of us can swim – but most of us can’t fly.

The
nature of flying and public perception have ensured that safety has
been accorded a high priority, both by ICAO and those operating the
civil aviation industry. However, as aircraft and systems, both on the
ground and in the air, became increasingly reliable, a concurrent
reduction in accidents, deaths and injuries did not occur to the degree
that might have been expected. During the early decades of ICAO, there
was considerable emphasis on the safety aspects of flight operations.
States, guided by ICAO SARPs (such as Annex 6 and Annex 8) paid
significant attention to regulation and inspection of airworthiness,
maintenance and flight operating procedures. It was not until quite
recently that significant attention was directed to areas such as ATM
and airports.

ICAO and various authorities made determined
efforts to solve this continuing problem. Not surprisingly, perhaps,
the other constant came to the forefront as a major culprit – human
error. While there have been exponential advances in knowledge,
technology and aircraft reliability, the human being remains
essentially unchanged. In particular, the human brain and its
processes, unique to every individual, have not changed in thousands of
years. Detailed research and analysis has made it clear that human
factors and safety management go hand-inhand; while as many as 80% of
all aviation accidents and incidents are caused by human error.

A
great deal of work by ICAO, states and specialist organizations has
created a significant body of documentation, study and analysis which
has given safety management and human factors training a key position
in aviation regulation, licensing and operations. In the past, the
greatest effort was directed at flight operations and airworthiness,
but with recent amendments to Annex 11 (ATM) and Annex 14 (Airports),
the need to address safety management in a systematic manner has been
extended to all operational areas of civil aviation.

Now that we
have the SARPs and the national regulations, the challenge is to make
the processes happen. This is particularly the case in airports and ATM
where, although people genuinely believe that safety is their first
priority, the same rigourous regulatory framework that covers aircraft
operations is not in place in all states. This is not to say that a
wide range of safety-oriented activities and processes are missing. In
fact, most ATM and airport organizations have documented safety
initiatives in place, but the key word is ‘systematic’. To ensure that
nothing has been overlooked and that all hazards and risks have been
addressed, a documented systematic safety management system, which
pulls together all existing processes and fills in any gaps, is
required.

There is a tendency to believe that systematic safety
management is clouded in mystique and difficult to implement. In fact,
it is straightforward and uses a common-sense approach, but does
require consistent application of standards and procedures throughout
the organization and the time and effort to put it in place and make it
work. Above all, it requires commitment and belief from top to bottom,
with appropriate education and training. Unless the most senior levels
of management, from the board and chief executive downward, have the
will and determination to make safety management the core value of the
organization, then the necessary culture will not develop and the SMS
will be stillborn.

Risk management is the core rationale of
safety management. If an organization identifies and understands the
risks involved in its activities then it can take the most
cost-effective approach to managing them. Introduction of a safety
management system offers real cost savings, not only in respect of
avoidance of major accidents but also in less visible day-to-day
activities. Ramp accidents alone cost the global aviation industry $10
billion per year, highlighting the economic potential of systematic
safety management.

Finally, airport and other safety management
systems demonstrate a proactive approach and provide assurance to
governments, citizens, airlines and passengers that airports and other
facilities are operating safely and efficiently.