SMS Explained

November 18th, 2010 marked the deadline of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) requirement for member states to begin executing their Safety Management System (SMS) implementation plans. While that date has now come and gone, confusion from operators over how this will be enforced continues.

AvBuyer  |  09th December 2010
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By Adam Hartley
An update on the latest changes introduced to SMS.

November 18th, 2010 marked the deadline of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) requirement for member states to begin executing their Safety Management System (SMS) implementation plans. While that date has now come and gone, confusion from operators over how this will be enforced continues.

Unfortunately, there is still much that is unknown regarding how different member states will enforce this requirement. However, some have announced their implementation plans. Following, we will look to address some key questions about the basics of SMS, and provide the SMS information that was known as of publication.

Note: the SMS situation is fluid, and operators need to continue to follow the situation as new developments occur. We will re-visit the topic in future issues of World Aircraft Sales Magazine.

What is a SMS?

A Safety Management System is a plan, and a compilation of detailed processes that aim to ensure that a business and the flight department have proactively and sufficiently thought through the numerous emergency and at-risk situations that could happen within a flight, on the ground, etc.

It is essentially a documented “what if” plan so all parties involved know what they are responsible, and accountable for with regards to safety.

Why does ICAO require this?

The requirement to implement a SMS is ICAO’s effort to require businesses and flight departments to take a more proactive approach when it comes to safety. For example, in the past when an aircraft accident occurred, the cause was determined, and the government then changed the regulatory minimums to help prevent a similar accident happening in the future.

Businesses and flight departments would then comply with the new regulations. Further steps to prevent additional types of accidents/incidents would not likely follow, however.

The requirement of a SMS represents a break from that approach. By requiring businesses and flight departments to proactively self-evaluate and mitigate their potential safety risks in addition to complying with regulatory minimums, ICAO member states are hoping to further supplement the “accident/ incident – new or changed regulation” cycle.

As it stands with regulatory compliance alone, improvement in safety levels had reached a plateau. The additional measures, as required by Safety Management Systems, are predicted to further decrease accidents/incidents within the industry.

Not only is SMS’ purpose to identify, mitigate and monitor safety, though, but to infiltrate every facet of the business and cause safety to be considered in all business decisions including those made by upper management. The requirement to implement a SMS is an attempt to remedy safety policies from being developed as an after-thought or in a silo, without regard to actual business practices.

Are all SMS’ the same?

No. They will depend on the size and complexity of the operation. However, there are basic principles that each safety management system will need to include. A Safety Management System must:

1. Identify safety hazards and associated risks;
2. Ensure that remedial actions necessary to mitigate the risks/hazards are implemented; and
3. Provide for continuous monitoring and regular assessment of the safety level achieved.

Additional guidance on Safety Management Systems is contained within the ICAO Safety Management Manual (SMM), Document 9859, and industry codes of practice.

Who is impacted by the November 18, 2010 date?

As mandated by Annex 6, Part II to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, the SMS requirements will affect all noncommercial, turbojet, large and corporate aircraft over 12,500 lbs maximum takeoff weight.

Does this mean that beginning November 18, 2010 operators must have a SMS in place in order to operate within ICAO member states?

No. It merely means that ICAO member states begin their SMS implementation plans, which will vary from state to state. However, it does signify that if operators have not begun to develop a SMS specific to their flight department, it would be prudent to begin the process.

What do we know about ICAO member states’ specific implementation plans?

Specific member state information is being announced daily. Although speculation is rampant, as at the time of publication for this magazine, we have confirmed the requirements of the following member states:

• Canada: SMS rules are in place. However, Canada is not enforcing the requirement on foreign operators at this time.

• European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA): EASA is currently drafting its SMS rules. The final draft will be published before year-end, and will be applicable by April 2012.

• Bermuda: Requirement of SMS implementation will be enforced on all aircraft as of November 18, 2010, with the exception of U.S.-registered aircraft operating under a commercial designation (i.e. FAR 135, 121). However, the aircraft must arrive and depart under the commercial designation to classify for the exemption. Fines, penalties, etc. in the event of violation have not been disclosed to date.

• Cayman Islands: The requirement of SMS implementation will be enforced on aircraft registered in the Cayman Islands as of December 2010.

Several other member states currently have rules, or are working on them. As specifics become available, we will continue to update this series with important information.

Where can I go for more assistance about SMS developments, or questions?

Universal’s Regulatory Services department continues to monitor the very latest SMS developments. The team can be reached 24/7, 365 at 713-378-2734 to discuss SMS requirements.



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