Sunday, January 27, 2013

3 Common Aviation SMS Implmentation Mistakes

3 Most Common SMS Implementation Mistakes

You have received top management commitment for your aviation safety management system (SMS) implementation and you are eager to get going. You start cranking out your manual, setup your hazard reporting system to allow all employees report aviation-related incidents and accidents, and perhaps do some training.

Aviation SMS Gap Analysis Checklists Included
Most aviation safety officers (or managers if you prefer) are very qualified, hard-working, educated folks. However, these are some common mistakes, or misdirected SMS implementation tactics, I've observed as we have worked with hundreds of airlines, airports, MROs and FBOs in their aviation SMS implementation projects.

1) Not Completing an Initial Gap Analysis

When you start on a journey to unknown territories, such as a trip to the Bahamas, you usually look for a map or information about how to get to your final destination. You may also look for items you need to bring on your trip, such as bathing shorts, suntan lotion, etc. Are there any visa requirements or anything else that you need before taking off on your journey. The more organized of us make a checklist. My wife will even make an MS Excel spreadsheet so she doesn't forget anything when we go sea kayaking in Prince William Sound or take a Hawaiian vacation where we camp for weeks at a time.

Along the same thread, safety managers should be doing a gap analysis when they begin their SMS implementation. There are many maps (models) available. For example, the FAA, Transport Canada, ICAO, IS-BAO and CASA models are among the most popular. SMS Pro has most of these models built in, so you can modify your map (or checklist) to suite your operations. If you only want the aviation SMS gap analysis checklists without using SMS Pro, they are free gap analysis checklist listed here.

The gap analysis is going to teach you what is required for your aviation SMS implementation. This serves are your map and your checklist to get your your tropical vacation. It is never too late to conduct your gap analysis.

2) Not Conducting a Follow-up Gap Analysis on Regular Basis

The second common SMS implementation mistake I see frequently stems from the first. For those airlines and airports implementing their aviation safety management systems, they don't perform regular followups. The most common reason the gap analysis is overlooked or purposefully neglected is because IT IS WORK! Trying to manage a gap analysis using a checklist is hard work. You have to:
  • Go through the gap analysis checklist and answer questions as to what you have and don't;
  • Find subject matter experts in the organization that can help with their areas;
  • Manage corrective actions stemming from shortcomings (assign & followup);
  • Repeat regularly (annually is prefered).
Doing all this work using an MS Excel spreadsheet, email and MS Word to document (or paper), this turns into a brutal exercise. No wonder operators shudder when they think of this task. There must be an easier way. Don't worry, there is. You can read more about the aviation SMS gap analysis with built in checklists here.

Conducting a regular gap analysis will demonstrate continuous improvement. This is an easy task to sing your improvements to management and to your aviation SMS auditors. If you haven't made any progress, then you are probably among the hundreds of companies are don't want to advertise this and put it on paper. In this case, you could probably use a Web based aviation safety management software system to make your tasks easier. These systems are not expensive and can save you considerable time and money implementing your aviation SMS program.

3) Not Creating an Aviation SMS Implementation Plan

Some operators skip the gap analysis and head straight for the aviation SMS implementation plan. They may read ICAO Document 9859, or the SMS Safety Assurance Guide put out by the FAA, or Transport Canada documentation and copy the SMS implementation plan to a spreadsheet. This is not a bad tactic, but most SMS implementation plans don't go into much detail. There is an exception to the above observation: IS-BAO gap analysis is weak, while their SMS implementation plan is outstanding!

A recommended SMS implementation strategy for aviation safety managers is to conduct your gap analysis so you can identify your problem areas, and then create your plan to satisfy your shortcomings. This plan can start with the ICAO, FAA, Transport Canada or IS-BAO SMS implementation plan. But you should extend it to include the elements in your gap analysis that were identified as shortcomings.

Why don't safety managers create an SMS implementation plan? Simplest answer is lack of time. Most safety managers are working other jobs, such as pilot, line mechanic, etc. Finding time to do their regularly required duties and perform as a safety manager requires considerable effort, especially when it takes considerable effort to learn the aviation SMS requirements. Other answers may include lack of training for organizing projects (lack of project management training) or seeming lack of importance (commitment) from upper manager.

The SMS implementation plan is typically composed of the elements in a phased SMS implementation. Each element should have a targeted start and finish date. More sophisticated SMS implementation plans are laid out in MS Project Gantt charts, but this is not really necessary unless you have extra time.

Your SMS implementation plan will serve your as your road map and timeline for your SMS implementation. Don't be discouraged if you don't meet your goals for implementing certain elements. The important thing to remember is that you are working on it, and your goals are documented using your SMS implementation plan.

Next Steps for Gap Analysis and SMS Implementation Plans

Chances are, you fall into the list of operators who has not:
  • Conducted an initial SMS gap analysis;
  • Performed a followup gap analysis; or
  • Created (and documented) your aviation SMS Implementation Plan.
It is never too late to start. There are many free and low cost aviation safety management software tools available to help.

About NWDS - founded in 2003 by six software engineers, NorthWest Data Solutions (NWDS) provides custom computer programming and systems design services. NWDS creates many types of software, including e-commerce, financial, defense, engineering, logistics, aviation and more. In 2007, NWDS developed SMS Pro™ a web based SMS application that supports an organization's overall SMS through safety reporting, safety documentation, safety risk management and safety assurance. SMS Pro™ is currently used by aviation organizations in the U.S., Canada, Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East to help manage their SMS programs. NWDS continues to support SMS Pro™ and add new functionality. NWDS offers custom contract programming services in the U.S. and Canada and is managed by Chris Howell, one of the founders. Their headquarters is in Anchorage, Alaska. For information on NWDS visit their website at and to learn more about SMS Pro™.

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