NTSB’s Graham recommends SMS for GA and NBAA has Guide for Small Operators

Safety as a SISYPHEAN goal
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NTSB Member urges GA, especially Small Operators  to use SMS

Myth–it’s a burden; Truth–it’s not, saves $ and saves lives

NBAA has a Guide to make implementation easier

SMS’s #1 message- keep pushing your safety level up

Aviation Safety seeks a Sisyphean goalstriving to attain a zero accident standard for all types of operations at all times may not be attainable in an operational environment with so many unknown and/or unpredictable elements. Below is an article about NTSB Member Graham urging that GENERAL AVIATION rely on Safety Management Systems to push for that goal. This global best practice, initiated by ICAO and advocated/mandated by the FAA, systematically assesses  risks, considers alternative solutions and then implements them. NTSB has also repeatedly recommended SMS for all operators.

NTSB SMSSMS is a process. The steps needed to review the complex array of risks posed by a major airline are significantly different from a GA operation. The review by a Part 91 owner/operator frequently involves only a few planes, a small roster of pilots, manufacturer defined maintenance, a limited range of operations and a simple mission. The point is that SMS is scalable—no need for a separate organization; no major records to keep; regularly schedules meetings of the key participants should assure that the focus is maintained.


The easiest myth to address is cost and the authority is the insurance industry:


David Merker, region manager of aerospace in North America for Willis Towers Watson, points out some things which these insured can address the higher rates by lowering their risks, his quote:

 “Anything you can do to improve your proficiency as a pilot, especially relative to the aircraft you’re insured in, will factor favorably into your rates,” Merker said. “There are a lot of programs offered through the insurers themselves, or they provide preferred vendor access to upset prevention and recovery training or safety management system assistance. Attaining a higher pilot rating is also always favorable. It shows your dedication to the aircraft platform and your proficiency in flying that aircraft.”

The literature supports Mr. Merker’s recommendation:


sms triangle


Aviation Safety Management Systems (SMS) MITRE 

The Business Case for Investment in Safety – A guide for executives



Safety Management Systems in aviation operations in the United States: Is the return on investment worth the cost?




executive thinking

43 Benefits of Aviation Safety Management Systems (Proven)

        1. Better safety culture
        2. Improved safety in operational environment
        3. Better compliance results
        4. Less accidents
        5. Less unacceptable safety incidents
        6. Better safety-decision making
        7. More safety data
        8. Improved safety documentation
        9. Better performance on inspections/audits (i.e., better interaction with oversight agencies)
        10. Better reputation among consumers and in media

Etc., etc., etc.

nbaa logo

Now to the how to implement and NBAA has already developed a simple recipe book:

Safety Management System (SMS) Overview

New NBAA Guide Offers Building Blocks for Small Operator Safety Systems NBAA Small Operators' Guide

SMS Frequently Asked Questions

SMS Educational Opportunities

Safety Best Practices

Scalable Proactive Safety







Member Graham’s recommendation has a clear path to reducing safety for even small GA teams. Recognizing that SMS is a constant push for safety and that the incessant striving is an important standard in and off itself reduces the Sisyphean  nature of the original definition of the goal. Unabating focus on the top of the hill, metaphorically, is something all operators large and small can and must due. SMS as a process assures attention on SAFETY

.safety on horizon

NTSB’s Graham Urges Collaboration on Small Operator SMS

by Kerry Lynch

– June 17, 2022, 11:33 AM


The aviation community must collectively work together to change the belief that safety management systems (SMS) are overly burdensome for small operators,Graham on the ramp National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member Michael Graham told attendees yesterday at the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) Aviation Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C.

Graham—the former chairman of the Air Charter Safety Foundation (ACSF) and director of flight operations safety, security, and standardization for Textron Aviation who joined the Safety Board in January 2020—,noted the agency has long pushed for SMS for Part 135 operations. The initial recommendation, A-16-36, was released in 2016 and since has been reiterated seven times.

Kahaka CeashThe most recent came out of the Board meeting in May on the December 2019 AS350B2 air-tour crash in Kekaha, Hawaii. This one, however, specifically targeted small operators, calling on the FAA to “develop guidance for small operators for scaling [an SMS] that includes methods and techniques for implementation and specific examples applicable to several operational sectors, including air tours.”

Graham said he has heard from industry leaders questioning how to get small operators on board with SMS. “There is a demonstrated hesitancy among small operators who mistakenly believe that SMS is overly burdensome and not worth the investment to improve safety. We must change that perception.”

SMS on the ramp

He stressed that SMS is designed to be scalable, but operators need to see how it can work for them. “You show me how to do something, I do it,” he said, saying operators should be given specific examples of what would work for them. Further, Graham added that SMSs don’t all have to look alike. At a minimum, operators must have a risk-management tool.

“I know a lot of operators out there, that don’t have an SMS, are Part 135 operators. They don’t really understand the decisions that they make and how it affects that margin of safety,” he said. “And let’s face it, decisions you make could improve your margin of safety…[or] reduce your margin of safety. And if they reduce your margin of safety, that increases the likelihood that you may have an accident. We see this over and over again.”

GA Safety











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