2014’s Airline Safety Record was the BEST; 2015 should be better with SMS

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Thanks to the Aviation Safety Network it is known that 2104, as measured by number of fatal accidents, was the safest year. ASN’s records listed 21 fatal airliner accidents, with 990 fatalities.  Ordinarily, after the industry’s cheering stopped, a sense of complacency may have been observed among the airlines. No slackening of the pursuit of sfaety in 2015, WHY?

The pursuit of perfection, in terms of safety, is an elusive goal. How much extra effort is required to lower the calculated percentages by the unachieved 1 to 5 points between the current status and perfection? The existing team believes that it is already doing all that can be done; who has time to contribute to the push? What points of emphasis will help move the needle to the good? These are the sorts of questions which hereto for has frustrated carriers in the past.

While the concept of Safety Management Systems has been well known for years, on January 7, 2015, the FAA issued a final rule mandating that airlines initiate and implement this safety discipline by 2018. In addition, many carriers (particularly the regional airlines) have voluntarily implemented this data-driven analytical discipline which includes every facet of the airline all of the time.

The focus of SMS is improved by its reliance on data. The vast collection of numbers facilitates the identification of the areas which need attention and helps quantify the value of such actions. The prioritized “to do” list has consensus due to the numbers and commitment due to the process.

Another precept of SMS is involving every facet of the organization on both horizontal and vertical dimensions. In fact, the most successful SMS projects are marked by commitment from the CEO to the janitors. Nothing so establishes a carrier’s dedication to a safety culture than a SVP picking up FOD on a ramp. In order to attain the 3600 degree perspective, all of the functions are required to participate.

What does finance have to do with safety? First, they bring a perspective to the issue and are usually quite adept at numbers.

Second there are the unexpected insights, i.e. “training on new aircraft’s new composite maintenance is important, we could demand that the OEM provide it free when we buy the next plane.” The contributions from personnel, law, IT, etc. have been heavily documented. By adding these people (actually all branches) to the safety culture, the team is expanded strategically and tactically.

SMS is built on the premise that continuous improvement is not only achievable but mandatory. The fact that the company has attained 98% of the measurement does not alieve it from attacking the remaining 2 points. The data helps quantify its value and prioritize the attainment of the margin against other safety measures.

The introduction and slow acceptance of SMS has been a valuable addition to the aviation industry. 2015’s airline safety performance will be better, or so we hope and are committed to that goal.

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