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Safety Management System

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A safety management system (SMS) is a systematic approach to managing safety, including the necessary organisational structures, accountabilities, policies and procedures. (ICAO)

Safety Management System (SMS) - A systematic and explicit approach defining the activities by which safety management is undertaken by an organisation in order to achieve acceptable or tolerable safety. (ESARR 3).


The objective of a Safety Management System is to provide a structured management approach to control safety risks in operations. Effective safety management must take into account the organisation’s specific structures and processes related to safety of operations.


Use of SMS can be generally interpreted as applying a quality management approach to control safety risks. Similar to other management functions, safety management requires planning, organising, communicating and providing direction.

The SMS development begins with setting the organisational safety policy. It defines the generic principles upon which the SMS is built and operated. This first step outlines the strategy for achieving acceptable levels of safety within the organisation.

Safety planning and the implementation of safety management procedures are the next key steps in the processes designed to mitigate and contain risk in operations. Once these controls are ready, quality management techniques can be utilised to ensure that they achieve the intended objectives and, where they fail, to improve them. This is accomplished by deployment of safety assurance and evaluation processes which in turn provide for a continuous monitoring of operations and for identifying areas of safety improvement.

Put simply, effective safety management systems use risk and quality management methods to achieve their safety goals. In addition, SMS also provides the organisational framework to establish and foster the development of a positive corporate safety culture.

The implementation of an SMS gives the organisation’s management a structured set of tools to meet their responsibilities for safety defined by the regulator.

Generic SMS Regulatory Framework

The ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPS) promulgated in several Annexes to the Chicago Convention require the implementation of a safety management system by the following aviation service provider organisations:

  • aircraft operators;
  • aircraft maintenance organisations;
  • air navigation services providers;
  • aiport operators.

Latest amendments to ICAO SARPS to include the requirement to implement a safety management system will be harmonised and extended to include in 2010 and 2013 respectively:

  • training organisations, and
  • aircraft manufacturers.

As ICAO SARPS are not directly applicable within national legislative and regulatory frameworks, States shall establish safety programmes and, as part of such programmes, ensure that operators/service providers implement a safety management system.

In Europe, the implementation of safety management systems by air navigation service providers has been mandated by EUROCONTROL Safety Regulatory Requirements (ESARRs) which were transposed by the European Commission into Community law.

Some sectors of the general aviation (GA) have also introduced SMS into their organisations, but the extension of SMS principles throughout GA presents specific problems, for which solutions have not yet been found.

Because of the diverse relationships between the rulemaking bodies and the variety of aviation service provider organisations, it is of critical importance to standardise the SMS functions to the point that there is a common understanding of the meaning of SMS among all concerned organisations and authorities, both domestically and internationally. In this regard the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) stated its intention to translate the SMS related provisions in ICAO Annex 6 and EU-OPS 1.037 in the upcoming rulemaking proposals as they will be similar for aircraft operators, maintenance organisations, air navigation services providers and aerodrome operators.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also supports the harmonised implementation of international standards, and is currently working to make U.S. aviation safety regulations consistent with ICAO standards and recommended practices. The FAA Advisory Circular No. 120-92B introduces the concept of SMS for Air Operators (airlines, air taxi operators, corporate flight departments, and pilot schools) and FAA A.C. No. 150/5200-37 provides guidance material for implementation of SMS in aerodrome operations.

ICAO SMS Framework

The ICAO SMS framework consists of four components and twelve elements, and its implementation shall be commensurate with the size of the organization and the complexity of the services provided.

ESARR 3 SMS Framework

ESARR 3 mandates the implementation and use of Safety Management Systems (SMS) by providers of air traffic management (ATM) services. It has been transposed into EU law by Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 1035/2011 of 17 October 2011 laying down common requirements for the provision of air navigation services.

The main components of an ATM service provider's SMS meeting ESARR 3 requirements may be assigned to the following broad domains:

An organisational safety effort cannot succeed just by the mechanic implementation of the referred SMS components and procedures. An effective SMS is build taking due account of the interaction between these components with the human element of the aviation system. A successful implementation and operation of an SMS is highly dependent on organisational aspects such as individual and group attitudes, values, competencies and patterns of behaviour which are frequently referred to as elements of the “safety culture”. A positive safety culture is characterised by a shared awareness of organisations’ personnel of the importance of safety in their operational tasks.

SMS in Aviation Industry

The international SMS standards and requirements are structured mainly as objective regulations. They are created in a way to emphasise more on “what to do” rather than “how to do it”. The reason behind this is to create standards which are set in a way that accommodates a wide variety of types and sizes of organisations. These standards are designed to allow the operators and service providers to integrate the safety management practices into their individual operational models.

The absence of harmonised and standardised requirements at the start of SMS implementation, the specific needs of the different types of operators/service providers as well as the differences in the existing service provision and business frameworks have set the pattern for the development of sector specific safety management systems:

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Portal:Safety Management