Safety Management Systems, or SMS, have gone from a cutting edge innovation in aviation to a widely adopted global standard.  It is currently recognized by the FAA, ICAO, EASA, and the civil aviation authorities in most countries.  The FAA recognizes SMS as the key method to:

integrate modern safety risk management and safety assurance concepts into repeatable, proactive systems. SMSs emphasize safety management as a fundamental business process to be considered in the same manner as other aspects of business management.

So, why does SMS work?  It works because it is a forward looking, iterative process.  By constantly analyzing new incidents as they occur, trends can be detected before they become a serious problem.  SMS also helps focus all levels of an organization on safety.  It is only through SMS principles that the extraordinary rate of change in aviation technology can be accommodated without compromising the safety of the airspace system.    

While formal SMS programs are not required for all operators in the National Airspace System, everyone can benefit from SMS principles.  For example, with unmanned aircraft, we have gone from a few operators who had full blown operational, flight, and maintenance manuals in the early days of the Section 333 Exemptions to thousands of Part 107 operators who are largely free to fly without having any kind of structured safety systems, manuals, or documented procedures.  As the airspace opens to routine flight in congested areas, over people, and beyond visual line of sight, this attitude will have to change.

While SMS is not required in every country, the FAA and EASA are slowly dragging the rest of the world up to these standards.  For example, any third country operators (TCO) that want to operate in any of EASA’s 32 member states must obtain an authorization in accordance with Commission regulation No. 452.2014.  Part of that authorization is a declaration that the operator has an adequate SMS program.  In many cases, this declaration of compliance must be backed up by an audit or other proof that the carrier’s SMS system is sufficient for its operations.

Fortunately for carriers, EASA utilizes a risk-based approach that does not require a full blown ISO 9000 level audit.  The verification can be performed in a focused manner aimed just at the SMS systems.  Again, third party experts such as WYVERN can perform a high level SMS audit that meets the EU standards without the carrier having to expend large amounts of time, labor, and costs.

SMS has delivered tangible results for airlines in the United States and Europe.  Hopefully, US and European regulators can continue to use their considerable influence and leverage to see that SMS principles are adopted by the unmanned aircraft community, business aviation community, and by carriers in the third world.