Aviation SMS & Snake Oil Salesmen

The iceberg Infographic 01A Recent Post where Steve Bentley - CEO of Sofema Aviation Services shared the organisational communication challenge depicted by the Iceberg of Ignorance together with the need to develop a strong understanding of the challenge of building resilience into our organisations, drew a response from purveyors of SMS Software which caused me to consider the role of Software to support an SMS System.

How such software is often miss-sold and what is the reality of an effective SMS system - please do comment and challenge anything said. It is only through a shared understanding of what works and what does not, that organisations can develop an efficient cost-effective, and organisationally beneficial SMS which supports the Leadership Team to optimise the business, concurrent with the highest level of Safety expected.

Here a few home truths about SMS

» If the SMS is not top-down with 100 % of the leadership team on board it will underperform

» A critical element is the organisational culture and particularly the willingness of people to report into the system (But not only) - there needs to be a level of competence which enables reporting which drives safety and adds business value.

» The SMS Software (If employed is a tool) & does not a “system make”

» Many senior persons within an organisation do not have a clear understanding of the difference and relevance of Direct Cause, Contributing Causes, and Root Causes

» Aviation Authorities in general and European Regulatory Authorities, in particular, do not understand either how to (or choose not to) perform performance audits of an SMS - instead they carry out tick the box compliance audits - (adds no value to the Organisations System)

» Organisations believe that if the Regulatory is happy then all is good - clearly missing the opportunity to benefit from business process optimisation.

» Training throughout the SMS system is often weak and fails to engage in a way that will provide the required outcome.

» A key element of effective training is to measure the effectiveness of the training - how many organisations are doing this?

» Risk Registers are often “underpopulated” - This is an essential component of any effective SMS

» Risk assessment is often performed by persons with insufficient competence to be considered a subject matter expert.


The above is only a snapshot of the current situation. Simply put Steve Bentley contend that this story is not about an unacceptable level of safety - Our aviation system is fundamentally sound.

It is a story of missed opportunity and inefficiency within and throughout the business process. Pareto Principle (sometimes called the 80 / 20 Rule) states that sources of a problem can be divided into two categories:

» The vital few: A small number of sources that account for most of the problem.

» The useful many: The large number of remaining sources that individually and collectively account for a relatively small part of the entire problem.

Next Steps

Sofema Aviation Services (SAS) www.sassofia.com - with over 50 years of commercial aviation experience - supports organisations to deliver an SMS. Top-Down. Managing Safety Yes, but also developing into an efficient management tool for business optimization. Email [email protected]