The Role of Safety Sharing in Cultivating a Safer Aviation Ecosystem

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Safety Sharing

With the help of various voices across the business aviation community, Connected Aviation Today has explored trends and insights around the adoption and integration of safety management systems (SMS). As a tool designed to sharpen safety practices across the aviation ecosystem, an SMS helps broaden the scope of safety concerns for decision makers to various causal factors, instead of merely aircraft deviations. As a result, aviation decision makers are seeing the impact of concepts like safety sharing and how they contribute to the betterment of the industry’s safety practices.

It’s worth noting that governing bodies like the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the U.S. Congress are starting to mandate the monitoring of flight data by manufacturers and owners. While there is a growing number of operators voluntarily adopting SMS to streamline and sharpen their safety practices, it’s a particularly crucial time for aviation leaders to be ready for mandatory adoption and regulation of the technology.

In the final installment of our series around SMS adoption, we spoke with Jens Hennig, VP of Operations with the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), Steve Bruneau, VP of Aviation Services with Polaris Aero, and Andrew Donnelly, Senior Marketing Manager, Business and Government Aviation with Collins Aerospace. They each offered their own unique perspectives on the widespread effect of SMS adoption and safety sharing and how business aviation can take the appropriate next steps to bolster its safety practices.

Connected Aviation Today (CAT) Editors: Why is safety sharing critical to the future of business aviation?

Jens Hennig: Today, monitoring and sharing of safety data equates to baseline safety for business and general aviation operators. We expect that the interest of the NTSB and the U.S. Congress in mandating the monitoring of flight data will push SMS expansion to manufacturers and certain operators on the front burner in the agency’s rulemaking plan during 2022.

Andrew Donnelly: The reality of safety programs such as SMS is that they are built on lessons learned. Which is to say, that flight safety is a cumulation of knowledge and best practices derived from safety related experiences, reported incidents, and investigated accidents across every part of the aviation ecosystem. And with airspace capacity increasing, air traffic management becoming more complex, and aircraft technologies constantly evolving, it’s clear just how critical safety sharing is to the future of aviation. In its simplest form, safety sharing improves access to critical flight risk data that can help save lives, reduce loss and minimize the time it takes for the aviation community to adopt and employ SMS.

Steve Bruneau: Safety is not something that organizations should compete on and safety issues at one flight department aren’t always unique to that one department. The point of sharing isn’t to throw organizations or people under the bus and shame them; it’s to highlight the safety outcome, deviation, or malfunction, and the causal factors behind it, ultimately leading to corrective action. Fixing a safety problem is great for your own business reputation and operational effectiveness while also helping others avoid the same “pothole.” 

CAT Editors: Expand on the systems integration strategy for operators and how it influences SMS adoption.

Andrew Donnelly: I think it’s important for operators to find an integration strategy that works for them and not against them. The concept of safety sharing and the tools that enable it create efficiencies for operators by automating, aggregating, and distributing safety data quickly and accurately, all serving the goal of minimizing risk. When an operator elects to subscribe to a safety services platform that is integrated with industry tools such as ARINCDirect flight planning, additional operational efficiencies are created that further streamline a flight department’s operations. 

Steve Bruneau: To Andrew’s point, when these different systems are integrated together, the result is a technology environment that handles the heavy lifting of these myriad datapoints without burdening your line personnel and safety managers with duplication, siloed information, and a host of administrative activities. Having an SMS environment that is simple to use and seamless across all the systems can profoundly impact safety engagement and insight, as well as an organization’s operation.

CAT Editors: What are some misconceptions around safety data and systems that should be debunked?

Jens Hennig: There is a misconception that establishing a safety data sharing and analysis program is complex, but experience has shown that programs can be scaled to the size, complexity, and type of operation of most organizations today under existing regulations and guidance. We have already seen over 140 businesses and on-demand Part 135 operators elect to sign up to partake in the joint-industry/FAA Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) program and feedback has been positive.

Andrew Donnelly: One of the flight safety challenges driving misunderstandings across the space is culturally driven. For example, pilots have expressed to me that the corporate Flight Operations Quality Assurance program, or C-FOQA, is nothing more than “big brother” scrutinizing every aspect of their job. They think safety data gleaned from a flight is more likely to be used as a tool for disciplinary action than a non-punitive tool for improving flight safety. This is one of the reasons it is so important for everyone in the flight department to be involved in SMS. When that’s the case, individuals are less likely to feel as though the weight of flight safety falls solely on them.

Steve Bruneau: Building on some of the sentiments Andrew has heard about programs like C-FOQA, safety data should serve the mission of safety, first and foremost. When the event is submitted, an organization can determine why it occurred and provide future risk controls to avoid it moving forward. Safety data, whether reported by a human or the airplane itself, needs to be used entirely for process improvement, lessons learned, and future avoidance of hazards. When managers use this data for reprimanding, discipline, or other inappropriate uses, your team will not be eager to contribute.

CAT Editors: What are the top factors business aviation leaders need to keep in mind regarding a potential 2022 safety mandate?

Jens Hennig: Companies that are interested in establishing an SMS should review Part 5, as we expect the regulatory requirements for an SMS to align with the existing regulation when advanced based on feedback from operators that have pursued a voluntary program.

Andrew Donnelly: Assessing the many SMS solutions out there today to get ahead of a potential SMS mandate in the U.S. would help operators avoid an unnecessary scramble for compliance that could result in rushed decisions. Now is the right time to prepare. A great resource to better understand what FAA SMS compliance could look like is the European Union Safety Agency (EASA), which already requires SMS for all aviation domains. 

Steve Bruneau: Safety management is essentially process improvement. If managers of any sized organization embrace SMS to track and mitigate safety problems, they can improve their business risk profile, create a positive work culture, and likely see that propagate to an improvement in their customer brand recognition. So why not start now?

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