Aviation Safety Management System (SMS) | a Simple Introduction - Aviation Professional

Aviation Safety Management System (SMS) | a Simple Introduction

 Aviation Safety Management System , icao sms , airline sms ,airport sms

In 2013, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) adopted Annex 19 to the Chicago Convention to implement Safety Management Systems (SMS) for service providers around the world.

A safety management system is a systematic and proactive approach for managing safety risks. As with all organization's management systems, SMS includes safety goal setting, safety planning, and measuring safety performance. An effective safety management system is woven into the fabric of a service provider. It becomes part of the culture; the way people do their jobs.

A safety management system goes beyond compliance with prescriptive regulations, to a systematic approach where potential safety risks are identified and managed to an acceptable level. SMS adopts a business-like approach to safety, similar to the way that finances are managed, with safety plans, safety performance indicators, and targets and continuous monitoring of the safety performance of the service provider. It enables effective risk-based decision-making processes across the service provider's management levels.


What is a safety management system?

A safety management system is a proactive and integrated approach to managing safety including the necessary organizational structures, accountabilities, policies, and procedures (the UK, CAA, CAP 795).

Another definition, an SMS is a systematic approach to managing safety, including the necessary organizational structures, accountabilities, policies, and procedures (ICAO, Doc 9859).


I will clarify these two definitions by explaining the three core aspects of SMS:

A- Systematic

Safety management activities are per a pre-determined plan and applied consistently throughout the organization

B- Pro-active

An approach that emphasizes hazard identification and risk control and mitigation, before events that affect safety occur,

C- Explicit

All safety management activities are documented and visible.

A safety management system is more than a manual and a set of procedures and requires safety management to be integrated into the day-to-day activities of the service provider. It requires the development of an organizational culture - safety culture - that reflects the safety policy and objectives.


Why a safety management system?

In my previous article " SWISS CHEESE MODEL " of accident causation", I point out that during the period from 1970-1990 aviation safety endeavors were not extended to include failures in the management and organizations of safety.

 During the mid-1990s, safety began to be viewed from a systemic perspective and began encompassing organizational factors as well as human and technical factors. The notion of an organizational accident was introduced. This perspective considered the impact of such things as organizational culture and policies on the effectiveness of safety risk controls.


Additionally, routine safety data collection and analysis using reactive and proactive methodologies enabled both states and service providers to monitor known safety risks and detect emerging safety trends. These enhancements provided the learning and foundation which lead to the current safety management approach.


But at that time there was no a consideration on how parts or components can affect the whole, safety-wise. Herein lies the fundamental consideration at the foundation of SMS (Total system). SMS conceptual discipline is the first layer for cohesiveness and integrity of the whole.


While, safety management, introduces two processes (SRM and SA) that guide the coordinated, cohesive execution of specific activities. As a second layer for cohesiveness and integrity of the whole, the two processes are surrounded by specific institutional arrangements necessary to support SRM and SA and ensure that the resources provided for the two processes are appropriate, timely available, and allocated based upon identified, and agreed on priorities.


Merging the institutional arrangements with the processes results in a safety management system: an organizational decision-making resource to ensure that parts are not introduced in such a way that the whole may be affected.


From the beginning of the 21st century, many States and service providers had embraced the safety approaches of the past and evolved to a higher level of safety maturity. They have begun implementing SSP or SMSs and are reaping the safety benefits


Understanding Aviation Safety Legal Framework

As I mentioned before, ICAO annex 19 required all service providers to establish an SMS. Also, required states to accept and oversight service providers safety management system. You may ask, what is a service provider, they are :

·         aircraft operators;

·         aircraft maintenance;

·         air navigation services providers;

·         airport operators.

·         training organizations, and

·         aircraft manufacturers.

Furthermore, ICAO annex 19 required states to establish and implement two sets of provisions, the 8 criticalelements (CEs) of a States safety oversight (SSO) system, and a state safety program (SSP). The safety oversight system and the SSP are closely connected in terms of the safety objectives that each seeks to achieve. Both address the functions and responsibilities of the State; the former primarily concerning safety oversight, and the latter with regard to safety management and safety performance.


The States legal framework dictates how aviation safety will be managed. Service providers are legally responsible for the safety of their products and services. They must comply with safety regulations established by the State.

ICAO aims at helping states to build up a strong aviation safety system that sets up the safety objectives of the state, and all service providers' SMSs are considered as a sub-system that achieve achieves states' safety objectives.

Benefits of having an SMS

There are many benefits of implementing SMS by service providers, I will mention some of them:

1)    Continuing authorization to operate

2)    Improving safety performance

3)    Continuing improving and managing of change

4)    Reducing costs associated with accidents and incidents

5)    Increasing employee productivity

6)    Improving staff relations and morale

7)    Improving operation efficiency

8)    Enhancing image (employees, community, clients, and customers)

9)    Lowering insurance premiums

10) Easing access to finance

11) Increasing regulatory compliance

12) Improving confidence

13) Boosting corporate and social responsibility

14) Promoting a positive safety culture


 What are the 4 elements of SMS?

 SMS is composed of four functional components and twelve elements, and its implementation shall be commensurate with the size of the organization and the complexity of the services provided.

1)    Safety Policy.

2)    Safety Risk Management.

3)    Safety Assurance.

4)    Safety Promotion.


sms components , sms elemnts , sms pillars

I will list the components and elements of the SMS framework in this table.





1- Safety Policy

1.1 Management commitment

1.2 Safety accountability and responsibilities

1.3 Appointment of key safety personnel

1.4 Coordination of emergency response planning

1.5 SMS documentation

2-Safety Risk Management

2.1 Hazard identification

2.2 Safety risk assessment and mitigation

3- Safety Assurance

3.1 Safety performance monitoring and measurement

3.2 The management of change

3.3 Continuous improvement of the SMS

4- Safety Promotion


4.1 Training and education

4.2 Safety communication



The safety management policy statement


By development and communication of a safety management policy statement (SMPS) formally signals the start of a service provider's commitment and transition to managing safety as a business function through SMS.


The SMPS serves to explicitly communicate to relevant personnel in a service provider's organization that executive management has committed to adopting SMS, thus placing the management of safety risk at an equal footing with other business functions of the organization, such as financial risk management, legal risk management, quality risk management and so forth.




An SMS is essentially a quality management approach to controlling risk. It also provides the organizational framework to support sound safety culture. For general aviation operators, an SMS can form the core of the companys safety efforts. For certificated operators such as airlines, air taxi operators, and aviation training organizations, the SMS can also serve as an efficient means of interfacing with state oversight programs. The SMS provides the companys management with a detailed roadmap for monitoring safety-related processes.



Further reading:

-       ICAO Doc 9859, Safety Management Manual

-       FAA, Introduction to Safety Management Systems for Air Operators

-       UK CAA, CAP 795, Safety Management Systems (SMS) guidance for organizations


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