Some Truths About SMS

Don't shoot me, I'm just the messenger.

An SMS manual makes not an SMS

Many operators appear to be developing the mindset that an SMS is simply a manual that sits on the shelf. In fact I recently saw an aviation association promoting its SMS manual template that just needs to have some blanks filled in and names inserted. This manual was being touted as “shelf ready and supported by the FAA.” But this brings up another good fundamental question; is the industry insinuating that simply having an SMS manual is an actual SMS? It’s not, but many operators are trying to rationalize it that way. This myopic approach may due to a number of reasons such as:

  • Lazy — Using the SMS manual as your SMS is an easy way out. Tempting, but that’s just not going to work.
  • Attitudinal — The safety manager’s attitude toward SMS is one of “who needs this? or what’s the point?” This attitude may be exacerbated by the manager viewing SMS as another (soon-to-be) regulatory requirement that will just tie up human and financial resources. Or, the perceived importance is diminished by other, seemingly more important issues.
  • Lack of knowledge — The well-intentioned safety manager simply does not have all of the facts and information regarding the overarching framework and underlying components of a real SMS (as opposed to a paper SMS). In this case the manager may have the right attitude or mindset but simply does not have all the required information or guidance. When it comes to SMS, knowledge is definitely power.

Whichever the case, we need to clearly understand that an SMS is not just a safety manual. The manual itself should be regarded as the main “go to” document where all of the components of the working SMS can be referenced. You cannot just buy a generic manual, fill in the blanks, and call it an SMS, regardless of the size of your company. The proper order of precedence is to conduct your GAP analysis first and then develop your SMS manual concurrently with your actual SMS. Doing it any other way may be putting the cart in front of the horse.


Hopefully this article shed some light on some of the less-discussed elements of SMS implementation. As you might imagine there are many other issues I could have discussed but space does not allow such inclusion. However, the issues that were mentioned seem to be some of the most problematic, at least at this point of SMS implementation in the United States. Oh, and remember, I am just the messenger!

Dr. Robert Baron is the president and chief consultant of The Aviation Consulting Group. He has more than 23 years of experience in the aviation industry. As a consultant, he has assisted a multitude of aviation organizations in the development of their human factors, SMS, CRM, and LOSA training programs. Dr. Baron is also an adjunct professor at Embry-Riddle and Everglades Universities and teaches courses on aviation safety and human factors subjects. Dr. Baron can be contacted through his company’s website at

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