Wednesday, November 29, 2017

When SMS Becomes Personal

Safety Management System is not new to aviation but started in 1903 at the moment of the first flight. Back then SMS was all reactive and safety was not improved until an accident had happened.
When SMS is directed from the bow.
For the first 100 years or so of aviation history, SMS in aviation was reactive and reactively improved safety processes after the fact. Over time, aviation industry leaders believed the airplane could not reach its full commercial potential without federal action to improve and maintain safety standards. With the implementation of a landmark legislation in 1926 the issuance and enforcement of air traffic rules, licensing pilots, certifying aircraft, establishing airways, and operating and maintaining aids to air navigation became available.

Despite this, in 1926 and 1927 there were a total of 24 fatal commercial airline crashes, a further 16 in 1928, and 51 in 1929, which remains the worst year on record at an accident rate of about 1 for every 1,000,000 miles flown. Based on the current numbers flying, this would equate to over 7,000 fatal incidents per year. Aviation was not considered to be a safe mode of transportation.

SMS is to know what options to balance.
In 1956 one of the worse accidents mid-air accidents happened over the Grand Canyon, with the result of creating more rules to prevent identical accidents. There was no indication of wrongdoing, or non-compliance with regulations by cancelling IFR and flying 1000-on top. Shortly before 10 a.m., both pilots reported to different communications stations that they would be crossing over the canyon at the same position at 10:31 a.m. The Air Traffic Controller was not required to issue a traffic conflict advisory to either pilot and was, in fact, prohibited from doing so. It was the sole responsibility of the pilots to avoid other aircraft in uncontrolled airspace.

Air safety regulation as we know it today has been shaped by aircraft disasters that have happened in the past. Any given aviation disaster can be attributed to human failure, technical failure, extreme weather, or sabotage. Over time all these factors were as good as eliminated from aircraft accidents. Aviation had become the safest mode of transportation available. In search to further improve safety, the Safety Management System in aviation was implemented as a regulatory requirement to address human factors. Since all other systems had been improved, the time was right to improve the human factors system.

However, when the SMS was seen as the last link to create the utopia of safety in aviation it became the failure of aviation safety. SMS in itself could not and cannot fail, since it is a parallel system and an observing system of applied processes and not a system of operational control, but a system and tool to manage operational control. When applied correctly, SMS is the tool to discover flaws and apply corrections and not a tool to create the utopia of safety.

There are several articles written and surveys conducted placing a negative view of the Safety Management System. When SMS is looked upon as the one solution to bring utopia of safety into flying it will fail in the eyes of the beholder. In addition, if biased and personal opinions are applied, an effective SMS could easily be described as a disaster to safety.  This is simply because an effective SMS describes and paints a picture of how safe the operations are and to what confidence level an operator can support safety by data. When these articles and surveys describe SMS as being un-safe, or not useful at all, their statements are describing the operations itself and not the SMS. SMS is a system analyzing personal behavior and it becomes easier to attack the messenger than accept the facts of personal behavior that SMS had already discovered. When SMS becomes personal it sets the stage for operational failure and not the failure of the SMS.