Skip to content
Definition of Aviation Safety Management System
AireXpert Team October 12, 2022

Definition of Aviation Safety Management System

Safety is foundational to your flight operations' efficient and fiscally sound operation. Adverse safety events destroy morale and cost your organization more than just monetarily; they eat away at a healthy culture. When safety is not a priority, negative results will eventually catch up with you and your team, and the results are always bad. 

But where exactly can your organization start with a safety plan and program? The method that is becoming an industry standard is the Safety Management System (SMS). SMSs are four key characteristics designed to keep your aircraft airworthy and your employees home to their families. Let’s deep-dive into this complex topic and break it down into something more digestible. 

Why Is an SMS Important?

Safety Management Systems are programs built to create a safety culture instead of a requirement. When safety becomes an organization's culture, it polices itself instead of being pushed from the top down. 

Top-down approaches to safety program implementation seldom withstand the tests of time because they are implemented using coercion and force. We’ve seen it with dozens of bad examples. Safety is pushed relentlessly in military aviation, yet the sortie counts are never reduced despite recruiting difficulties and troop drawdowns. 

Safety is kicked around a lot, but technicians on the ground know the truth: if no differences are made and adhered to at the top, then it is only window dressing. 

An SMS is more than buzzwords and brute force. It is a way to implement lasting change within your organization that will become a cultural standard with your team. 

What Is an Aviation Safety Management System?

All Aviation SMSs are made up of four distinct components:

  • Safety policy
  • Safety assurance
  • Safety promotion
  • Safety risk management

Aviation SMS is becoming an industry standard program globally. It is recognized by the Joint Planning and Development Office and the International Civil Aviation Organization, among others. It is the gold standard of aviation safety. 

SMS is a program that works for both the certificate holder and the FAA. It is intended to put them on the same music sheet, so to speak. 

The basis of SMS is about employing safe decision-making throughout the organization. What does this mean in practical terms?

The Technician 

One of the issues we ran into in the military was production teams pushing the schedule despite our complaints that the work on our plate would not allow the missions to be made. We did not feel we could give aircraft discrepancies the attention needed due to maintenance supervision/control pushback. 

We can safely assume the perspective is similar in the private sector; airlines fly on tight schedules, but breakage doesn’t care what the schedule says. Your technicians must feel empowered to call a break as they find them with no negative consequences. 


Supervision is stuck between a rock and a hard place. They have to generate jets for the flying schedule, but they are also faced with the day, week, month, and year maintenance tasks. Here’s the harsh truth: sometimes it doesn’t fit. Sometimes, for safety, you have to say, “no, it can’t be done safely in this timeframe.” An SMS builds that ability into the organization. 

Your team does not have the time to NOT address safety-of-flight issues, but they are pushed to the point of ignoring them. It happens a lot. 

What Are the Pillars of SMS? 

Every SMS is universally built using the same four pillars, which we touched on earlier:

  • Safety Policy
  • Safety Risk Management
  • Safety Assurance
  • Safety Promotion

Safety Policy

SMS must be driven by management’s commitment to safety; everything starts at the top. If management allows the workforce to ignore policy, it is their problem not making adherence mandatory. 

Again, there is a tightrope to walk. You have to make schedules work to meet the bottom line, but your workforce must also be empowered to make the tough call to ground the aircraft if needed. 

The policy is set by management. They use it to lay out their overall expectations of employees and stakeholders. It also outlines the resources at its employee's disposal to carry out the company’s goals. 

Safety Risk Management

Aviation is a dangerous business. Like driving a car, it has become so commonplace that we have become complacent about the risks. 

Risk management identifies the hazards on the job. For a dedicated MRO, this includes the many hazards of the environment. It can include noise, slips, trips, falls, etc. For flight operations, it might be dealing with density altitude, icing, and crew currency issues. 

Proactive risk management is measures implemented to mitigate risk before it happens. A big part of the proactive process is analyzing data across their fleet. For instance, a trend emerges of the #3 window delamination on your fleet. The proactive measure is to order all of the #3 windows to be inspected immediately for delamination. 

Safety Assurance

As the name suggests, assurance is the part of the program where adherence is observed and inspected. It is the auditing portion of the program where you make sure that the program is working as it was designed in the policy and risk management phases.   

Safety Promotion

To steep safety into the organizational culture, it must be promoted. It also should be rewarded.

From bottom to top, your entire team must be comfortable reporting safety issues regardless of the impact on timeframe and aircraft availability. 

An award program is one common tool in the SMS toolbox to promote a safe culture and might prove valuable to your organization.

Also, our software suite makes reporting easy and painful free promotes a safe culture. 

What Are Some of the Tools in an SMS?

Just like a toolbox is vital to a mechanic working on a jet, your SMS toolbox keeps the program running smoothly. 

Safety Performance Software Systems

Compliance management is paramount to your safety management program. You need a software program to keep tabs on all of your programs and how they are keeping in compliance with your regulatory body. 

We have the solution. Our program captures system-wide data and presents real-time insights. Our goal is to provide full oversight to mitigate compliance risks. 

Safety & Training Library

Your library must be accessible; how can you promote a safe culture if your employees can’t access the necessary information easily? 

Well, AireXpert can do that, too. Your safety library is accessible anywhere in the world, anytime. Your SMS team can easily keep safety documents updated, so there is never any question about the currency of your safety documents. The whole team is on the same page, with no exceptions. 

Tying It All Together

SMS is rapidly becoming an industry standard program to ensure the safe operation of aircraft on the ground and in the air. More importantly, it is the measure by which we make sure everyone makes it home to their loved ones, whether they be ground crew, flight crew, or passengers. To implement and deploy your SMS, you need to lean on a trusted team with a proven software suite to tackle SMS. AireXpert is your team. Click here to schedule a demo today!

Recent Posts

Cultivating Teamwork and Communication in Aviation SMS

Cultivating Teamwork and Communication in Aviation SMS

Read More

Uniting Aircraft Maintenance Teams Through Structure, Organization and Communication | AireXpert

Uniting Aircraft Maintenance Teams Through Structure, Organization and Communication

Read More

Using Talent Efficiency to Combat Travel Delays

Using Talent Efficiency to Combat Travel Delays

Read More

Subscribe to Updates

See AireXpert in Action

Leave a Comment