Charter Aviation Operators Offer First-Hand Accounts of the Power of Safety Management Systems

Safety Management Systems

Safety is often cited as the top priority for the aviation community, and it is typically a key component of any organization’s mission. Putting focus on modern approaches to safety is crucial to the growth of aviation. This prospect has spurred the Connected Aviation Today series on safety management systems (SMS) and how they are making an impact on business aviation. 

To learn more about SMS and gain first-hand insight into its direct impact on aviation safety culture today, we connected with various experts in the charter market. Here’s what they had to share about their experiences adopting the Polaris VOCUS SMS digital platform as an integrated feature of their ARINCDirect flight planning service: 

Safety depends on proactivity 

Because of increased data visibility and accessibility with an SMS, flight operators are able to be more proactive, allowing them to mitigate challenges before they become huge hurdles for operation. 

Jeff Hill, Safety Director with Jen Air, LLC: 

Prior to modern SMS, safety was much more reactive, and it often felt as if there was no central repository for all this valuable knowledge we were gaining. Since adopting SMS, we see a path toward a much more streamlined and organized process. Instead of feeling bombarded by random events and tasks, our SMS works to funnel everything toward a defined process. The lessons we learn, and the knowledge we bank, allows us to focus more heavily on proactive safety initiatives. 

David Midyett is Chief Pilot with Trident Aircraft

We have found that a properly developed and managed SMS has streamlined our operations and caught many potential issues before they became serious. A great example of this is the integration of our scheduling software into the SMS program. Once we integrated our schedule into the SMS, it allows our schedulers to catch time, duty, and rest issues before a trip schedule is completed. This not only benefits our crews, but also helps our customers as we can resolve the issue right away as opposed to the old way of the crew catching it once the trip is sent to them. We have found that starting the conversation earlier regarding potential risks helps minimize impact to our customers while greatly enhancing our crew’s situational awareness regarding potential issues on a trip. 

Kevin Heitman, Chief Operating Officer, Charter Air Transportation Services Inc.

As a Canadian Operator, we have been working within an SMS framework with our Private Operations for well over a decade. As we continue to integrate SMS into Commercial Operations our crew members are already familiar with the non-punitive reporting system. This has allowed a more transparent and open organizational culture; ensuring that crew members and management can be proactive about mitigating unnecessary flight risks before they occur. 

Keep it simple 

Simplicity of an SMS helps keep employees engaged and encouraged to use the platform. If the team doesn’t feel equipped with the knowledge they need to effectively use the SMS and resist its adoption, it’s rendered useless, so keeping the system simple and intuitive is imperative. 


I think keeping the system simple to operate under for the participants is key to its success. The new generation of integrated online applications greatly simplifies and streamlines the SMS process, while also enhancing safety by removing several steps in analyzing potential risks.  


Finding an easy-to-use electronic system like VOCUS from Polaris that is both scalable and already integrated with Electronic Flight Bag (EFB)/flight planning software will ensure that crew members are comfortable using the system and they are able to see in real time the oversight of such electronic SMS systems. Having the SMS coupled directly to flight planning software allows both flight crew members and the flight following to have real time SMS oversight for every flight. That’s just good business for everyone! 

We’re all on the same team, so let’s be on the same page 

Safety is something that is ingrained in the culture of an aviation organization, so ensuring that an entire team subscribes to that school of thought is an important first step. Make adopting an SMS part of the organization’s safety culture. 


I’ve found that the adoption of a formal SMS program has provided our department a focal point and the framework to guide our safety initiatives. Although departments have been instituting safety initiatives and best practices long before the advent of formal SMS, often these initiatives were not always communicated adequately to the rest of the organization. Even when they were, there wasn’t always a good way to track the success (or lack of) each initiative. Ultimately, success will depend on each member in their organization understand the framework and the goals of their department’s SMS. 


In the early days of SMS, it was easy for participants to alter the inputs into SMS systems like FRATs to “make it work.” Under the newer integrated online systems, the data is absolute in that it comes directly from the source with no need for human intervention. This also allows for better analysis of the situation and gives the involved participants “cleaner” and more reliable data to work with.  

Dave Knowland, Director of Safety with Elite Jets

After a period of trial-and-error, it became apparent that working with the large amount of raw data that came out of our flight department and our operation would be impossible to handle without a tool to collect, manipulate, store and analyze. Three years now into our VOCUS SMS system, all our data is conveniently stored on a server, where it can always be retrieved, analyzed, and from which conclusions can be drawn. This allows us to create or amend policy, change standard operating procedures, and write meaningful changes to our general operations manual, all based upon reliable data retrieved from our SMS.  

So, what’s next? 


First, I would advise the organization to identify early on an individual (or small team) in the department who is interested in taking the lead in becoming educated on the mandates and requirements of SMS. It’s important to keep in mind that the objective is not to become an industry expert in all facets of SMS. Instead, they should seek to gain an understanding of SMS essentials and then concentrate on translating this into a language that is best understood by their organization.  

Secondly, remember not to let perfection get in the way of progress. When we began using our VOCUS SMS tool we were immediately impressed with the capabilities the software offered. It was obvious the system could handle the needs of a department with a much more complex SMS than our own. It’s only been with the excellent assistance from the support staff and Polaris Aero, and conversations with other safety leaders that we’ve come to realize that the key is to simply take the first step.  

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