Adopting and Maintaining Effective Safety Management Systems

Aug. 12, 2022
While not a new concept, a safety management system in an MRO environment can vary depending on an MROs location in the world and what regulations they fall under.

While safety management systems (SMS) have been around for several years, in the aircraft MRO industry there are differences among the various regulatory environments of the world with regard to the implementation of SMS.

Indeed, according to FL Technics, some aviation authorities have been faster to mandate the implementation of SMS than others.

“However, due to the fact that it is still not mandatory in many regions, the implementation of SMS in MROs is not very widespread yet. From the regulatory mandate perspective, all Part-145s located in EASA Member States have to implement SMS by the end of 2022, while it is still voluntary for FAA repair stations which are not Part-121 operators,” says FL Technics. “As we provide services to operators around the world, we started to implement SMS almost five years ago on a voluntary basis.”

SMS implementation

Czech Airlines Technics (CSAT) introduced SMS in May 2017.

“Since then, we have been making efforts to continuously improve it. It is therefore a constantly evolving process,” says CSAT.

Lufthansa Technik began integrating SMS at an early stage because it supplies customers all over the world, points out Rainer Lindau, vice president of quality management at Lufthansa Technik.

“SMS is an integral part of our integrated management system, so we have been able to gain extensive experience over the past 5 years or so and thus further develop our own system step-by-step,” he says. “It is not only based on international standards and requirements but also reflects in particular our demand for compliance and safety in our MRO processes.”

Air France Industries KLM Engineering & Maintenance (AFI KLM E&M) has pursued the deployment of its SMS and implemented processes relating to flight safety in a systematic, cross-functional manner, the company says.

“This is done through regular meetings devoted to event analysis, and the establishment and monitoring of action plans. With an implemented SMS we are able to manage safety in a systematic and proactive way,” says AFI KLM E&M.

SMS advantages and investments

According to CSAT, the main advantages of SMS implementation include monitoring the trend of safety indicators and change management.

A well-functioning SMS has the role to support management, employees and the entire organization to recognize safety risks in the MRO process of daily work in time, according to Lindau.

“It also helps to minimize safety risks in the long term and to focus those involved on the issue to make work processes safer in a sustainable matter and in the interests of flight safety”, says Lindau. “The biggest advantages of an implemented SMS are the change of attitude of all those involved and the creation of an open culture in dealing with errors and, above all, the handling of a lived ‘Just Culture,’”

For what concerns risks, according to AFI KLM E&M, through SMS they are predictively indicated and proactively eliminated or mitigated before accidents and incidents might occur.

“Managing safety is continuously improved by collecting and analyzing data, identifying hazards and threats, and assessing safety risks to ensure the optimal allocation of company resources. Organizational investments are in the field of required functions such as oversight functions and risk analysts, training, and promotion,” says AFI KLM E&M.

According to FL Technics, the biggest advantage and ultimate objective of SMS is enhanced levels of aviation safety.

“Minimizing risks helps not only to prevent injuries of people, but the damage or loss of equipment as well (which, as we know, is costly in aviation),” says FL Technics. “Implementation and maintenance of these management processes requires mainly manpower (dedicated SMS staff and additional duties for production personnel) and their time (investigations, meetings, workshops, procedures development, analysis, training etc.).”

SMS investments indeed include personnel related costs, costs associated with training and safety promotion and software for recording and maintaining safety reports and data necessary for investigation, observes CSAT.

According to Lindau, SMS organizational investments are clearly defined processes and roles that meet the SMS requirements.

“The basis is a functioning system for safety reporting and risk management, which provides a standard approach for risk assessment and risk control, corrective and preventive actions. Through the early detection of risks, one can directly influence the cost of non-quality,” he says.

Aircraft maintenance hazards

The scope of hazards associated with aircraft operations and its maintenance is indeed extensive, and, depending on the nature and size of the MRO, different hazard identification methods (e.g., safety reporting, investigations, audits, data analysis etc.) may be employed, according to FL Technics.

“We believe that for most MROs hazards are mainly associated with procedures and operating practices, i.e., processes, documentation, checklists, their proper use, and validation etc. - or generated from human factor issues that affect human performance. To control the associated risks, it is vital to continuously educate personnel,” says FL Technics.

A typical hazard in aircraft maintenance is the aircraft and environment itself, due to the shape and height of the aircraft, and the existence of rotating parts, observes AFI KLM E&M.

“Another typical hazard are the aircraft chemicals such as lubricants, paints, fuel, etc. These hazards can be controlled by using the required personal protection equipment and clear communication about the use of equipment, tooling, and materials,” says AFI KLM E&M.

CSAT highlights that the MRO environment is very specific, and, consequently, the hazards associated are just as specific.

“A typical example of a hazard in an MRO is a tool forgotten somewhere in the aircraft during maintenance. To eliminate this kind of hazard, a system of regular tool checks in order to verify the completeness of assigned personal tool sets is in place,” says CSAT. “Human factors are generally considered to be some of the most significant sources of hazards. This is why recurrent training is provided, which includes, among other things, the topics of human factors and SMS.”

Concerning human factors in aircraft maintenance, according to Lindau there is no typical error or factor, but it always depends on the entire environment.

“Therefore, SMS offers the possibility to recognize changes and risks in organizations at an early stage. Controlled influence through early detection and derivation of suitable and effective measures is the decisive approach here”, he says.

Handling resistance

According to AFI KLM E&M, SMS is based on a system of feedback.

“The deployment of a ‘safety mind-set’ and support of a network of local flight safety officers are key for the feedback system. As an example, we have also implemented a volunteer-driven oversight evaluation known as maintenance line operations safety assessment (M-LOSA) in our Paris plants”, says AFI KLM E&M. “Consisting of a frontline campaign by a network of observers, this procedure enables the identification and reporting of situations which could present a high risk to flight safety. Given the success of this operation in the airframe, engines and components division, the approach has been extended to the engineering functions.”

To handle possible resistance to SMS implementation there is a need for a strong management commitment, a lived just culture across all levels and continuous safety promotion and communication, according to Lindau.

“The only way to eliminate the resistance to SMS implementation is to communicate effectively across the organization about the benefits of SMS in relation to maintaining an acceptable level of safety,” says CSAT.

If top management believes in the benefits of safety management-based approach and the safety culture message is clearly and constantly transferred to the personnel, there should not be any resistance, according to FL Technics.

“Everyone wants to be and work in safe environment,” concludes FL Technics.