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Keys to Improving Your Aircraft Safety Management

Flight departments need to be more proactive in establishing safety standards

Mario Pierobon   |   16th December 2016
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Mario Pierobon Mario Pierobon

Mario Pierobon holds a Master’s Degree in Air Transportation Management from City University...
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For ten years the Business Aviation industry has had the opportunity to familiarize with aircraft safety management requirements. Despite this, several areas of SMS still needing better application within many flight departments, warns Mario Pierobon...

Failure to isolate the safety manager and his/her initial and recurrent qualification from other duties is still being overlooked by too many flight departments in Business Aviation.

It’s not uncommon to find the role of safety manager simply being attributed to someone who already holds another position within the flight department, and who is thusly unable to give the necessary energy and time to safety management.

This lack of focus can be exacerbated by the limited actual safety management practice the elected safety manager may have. For example, ICAO Safety Management Manual (SMM) outlines several criteria that qualify a person as a safety manager, including:

  • Full-time experience in aviation safety in the capacity of an aviation safety investigator, safety or quality manager or safety risk manager;
  • An extensive knowledge of SMS and the completion of appropriate SMS training;
  • An understanding of risk management principles and techniques to support the SMS;
  • Experience implementing and/or managing an SMS;
  • Experience and qualifications in aviation accident/incident investigation and human factors;
  • Experience and qualifications in conducting safety/quality audits and inspections;
  • Ability to be firm in conviction and to promote a just and fair culture whilst also advancing an open and non-punitive atmosphere for reporting.

The Ideal vs The Reality

The above criteria, although broad, are obviously very demanding. At the start of SMS implementation it was almost impossible to source professionals meeting all of these criteria, both within business aircraft organizations themselves, or within the wider industry.

Today, however, many such skills should have been proficiently mastered by safety managers while their organizations ought to be benefitting from their solid expertise.

Often the reality is different – many safety managers having unrealized expertise potential. This is in part due to the fact that aviation authorities aren’t being demanding in terms of safety management consistency like they are with operational and training matters.

Thus flight departments are not compelled to exploit the full potential for safety improvements thorough SMS implementation.

Another key hindrance preventing the ideal from being achieved centers on the fact that the training, experience and qualification of the safety manager and of the other safety professionals (where applicable) are not regulated in the same way that requirements for flight, cabin and technical staff are.

Operational and maintenance professions – all key to safety within the flight department – are regulated by rigid training requirements, yet the safety manager, whose contribution to safety is essential, is regulated only in terms of qualification criteria. No requirements exist regarding Currency or Recency as they relate to specific safety management efforts.

Ticking the boxes is always possible, but a requirement for safety managers to demonstrate that they have undertaken a certain amount of work over a certain period of time in order to remain ‘current’ in their role would make a more compelling case for organizations to implement SMS more consistently.

Flight Departments: Be Proactive!

Nothing prevents an individual organization from defining its own safety management currency/recency targets, including those in its own training system. As a matter of fact this is simply ‘good practice’ and is in line with another SMS requirement for the definition of safety performance targets.

Corporate flight departments need to take a proactive role in their safe operations, ensuring their safety managers become more competent so that the entire organization can benefit from the enhanced expertise generated from better safety management practice.

In parallel, an improved awareness of the whole organization as to its safety-related strengths and weaknesses will emerge.

The relative isolation of the safety manager is something that can be addressed quite inexpensively. The focus is all about establishing priorities - namely developing the safety manager’s competence for the benefit of the whole organization in terms of the organization's aircraft safety management. The return on safety performance will pay for itself!

 

Read more about: Flight Department | Leadership | Business Aviation Safety | SMS

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