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New Guide Offers Building Blocks for Small Operator Safety Systems

April 27, 2022

At first glance, safety management systems (SMS) can seem intimidatingly complex, especially to a small flight department, said Jeff Wofford, CAM, chairman of the NBAA Safety Committee. “The biggest problem with SMS is we get wrapped around the fencepost on its terms and the idea that it is complex.”

As NBAA’s new Small Flight Department Safety Guide explains, that doesn’t have to be the case. “The guide gives small flight departments a roadmap, a place to start building a safety program.”

“Every small flight department – from an owner-operator with a single piston-powered aircraft, to one with a handful of pilots and a couple of jets – is unique,” said Mark Larsen, CAM, NBAA director of safety and flight operations. “The five-page guide will help each of them develop a customized system that will increase the safety and the efficiency of their operation.”

Regardless of the operator’s size, the keys to improved safety are the same:

  • Identify the risks
  • Develop the processes and procedures that mitigate the risks
  • Promote their use
  • Follow them without fail
  • Continually evaluate their effectiveness

“The idea for the guide came from our Small Flight Department Subcommittee two years after recognizing that small flight departments often lack a formal SMS due to limited resources,” said Eric Canup, chair of NBAA’s Domestic Operations Committee. “Subcommittee members wanted to distill the facets of a mature safety management system into more digestible tenets that small flight departments can employ to increase safety by evaluating and organizing their operations.”

The first step is to draft a safety policy. In documenting how the department operates, it creates a manual of systematic policies and procedures that organizes those operations. This increases safety and efficiency because it’s difficult to know what works or doesn’t work if you do it differently every time. Helpful resources include the LBA Flight Operations Manual Template and the NBAA Management Guide.

Safety risk management identifies the operation’s individual risks and analyzes their acceptability in an operational context to determine the best course of action. Context is critical because, by itself, a risk might be acceptable, but not when joined with another risk. To build this compilation, all department members should have an easy way to report the safety issues they identify, and the guide includes tools to help identify and mitigate risks.

There are several ways to attain safety assurance, but organized briefings before and after every flight are a simple and efficient way to evaluate the effectiveness of the tools, procedures and processes developed so far. If they are not working, the guide suggests, “adjust as necessary.”

Finally, safety promotion tools motivate flight department members and remind them why they have risk management protocols. Developing a safety system of tools, procedures and processes will not improve safety if they are not rigorously employed.

With the ability to customize the protocols to their individual needs and resources, NBAA’s new Small Flight Department Safety Guide doesn’t make SMS any more complicated than it needs to be. And it provides a number of helpful and additional resources, including NBAA SMS resources webpage and possibly partnering with the IS-BAO FlightPlan Stage 1 program.

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