Guest Editorial

David Nowzek

Safety Management Systems (SMS) Take Root in Canada

I recently had the opportunity to attend an industry/regulator seminar in Gatineau, Que. Sponsored by Transport Canada Civil Aviation (TCCA), the Canadian Aviation Executives’ Safety Network (CAESN) meeting attracted some 80 senior executives, representing virtually all of Canada’s larger air operators, airports, approved maintenance organizations (AMO) and manufacturers. The forum promoted a free-flowing discussion on the direction of the aviation industry-both nationally and internationally. In that sense, speakers promoted future thinking, as opposed to "rear-view" lamenting, and a move beyond the "if it ain’t broke, why fix it" approach to managing.

I was struck this year by the universal agreement that SMS is already showing results-in the form of reduced incidents, and in some cases, huge savings from preventing incidents from happening. One operator, for example, cited savings of several million dollars per year in reduced damage to property and equipment alone. Savings such as these don’t happen by themselves-just as accident reduction doesn’t materialize without a change in the way we do things, the way we think, and the way in which we manage systems and human factors within an organization.

SMS is now in force for the country’s air operators who operate under Canadian Aviation Regulation (CAR) 705. These early reports from the industry are testimony to the intention and projected outcomes of the SMS regulatory framework. It is also evidence of a cultural shift from activity management to a very structured systemic approach to managing operations to achieve optimum results, i.e. reducing incidents and accidents.

One of the keynote speakers at this year’s CAESN, Dr. Peter Gardiner, underlined the results that are now emerging. Dr. Gardiner made the obvious point that "good" safety leads to "good" financial results. In his presentation, he made a very definitive and persuasive link between SMS and bottom-line profit. His challenge though, for line managers, was to convince the boss, in 15 min or less, to provide the up-front funding to implement the tools necessary for the shift to systemic management.

The number of accidents in Canada has halved between the years 1990 and 2006. This enviable record places Canada in the top ranks of the world’s safest aviation industries. Collectively, we are proud of this record and we need to shout it from the highest tower whenever we have the chance. But...there is evidence to suggest the progress is flattening, which gives us one more reason to change the way we think and do things.

In the next year, SMS will come into force for small air taxis, AMOs, airports, flight training units (FTU) and other certificate holders. While at first glance implementation may appear daunting, I encourage you to seek out your colleagues in the CAR 705 world to hear first-hand their experience and results with SMS. Each region in TCCA has an SMS specialist who can also provide you with guidance on the requirements. And finally, think about the business case for SMS. A successful approach will bring about the most welcome result of a reduction in the number of incidents and accidents.

David Nowzek
Regional Director, Civil Aviation
Pacific Region

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