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Best Practices for Involving Maintenance in SMS

As many Part 135 operators, certain Part 21 certificate holders and §91.147 air tour operators start planning to implement safety management systems (SMS) under the FAA’s recently expanded SMS mandate, experts say it’s important to ensure maintenance teams are involved in the process from the very beginning.

“Obviously, flight department maintenance personnel are responsible for keeping aircraft safe and airworthy,” said AviationManuals Senior Operations Advisor Kevin Honan. “So, if an issue or hazard that could have been captured by the safety management system is missed, it could have consequences – not only for maintenance personnel, but also for flight crew and passengers. So, it’s really important that maintenance personnel are also applying the safeguards and processes of SMS to make sure that any hazards or mistakes are being captured and addressed.”

Honan – a pilot and 10-year veteran of AviationManuals who has worked with operators under various aircraft registries worldwide – shared his expertise on SMS during the 2024 NBAA Maintenance Conference in Portland, OR. He reminded attendees that SMS essentially involves documenting what’s being done and why. Then, operators can use that data to minimize safety risks, assess what’s working and what needs to be improved.

Identify Who Does What

It’s important to clearly document who is accountable for which tasks, including an executive with overall responsibility, the department manager, a safety manager and all other team members, Honan said. SMS users should know exactly how they should interface with the system, as well as the goals of the system and what mandatory events must be reported.

“Sit down and brainstorm with your maintenance team. Bring everybody in – from the most junior technician all the way up to your director of maintenance,” Honan said. “Discuss with everybody questions like: What does everyone want to improve? What are we seeing in day-to-day line operations? Some examples might include hangar rash issues or total accountability or maintenance tasks that are spanning multiple work sessions.”

Decide how new equipment, personnel changes or other variations will be managed by the SMS, Honan said, and then make sure the entire maintenance team is aware.

Getting Team Buy-in

Also, ensure everyone knows how safety data will be processed and that there will not be punitive action taken for safety-related events and mistakes. “This is going to be crucial for team buy-in,” Honan said. “It’s about building trust in the system and its goals. If employees are concerned about being punished for submitting a report, you’re not going to get very many reports submitted. So, your SMS isn’t going to be doing very much for you.”

Once the maintenance team agrees on areas it wants to improve, the team should run them by the flight operations team. “They might be able to look at them from a different perspective and offer other ideas or ways to help,” said Honan. “Making this a global effort, rather than just silo-ing it off, is going to make your safety management system far more effective than just running it on a department basis.”

Hold Maintenance-Specific SMS Meetings

In addition, it’s important to hold maintenance-specific safety meetings where SMS data and issues can be freely discussed. These meetings can serve as a way to communicate SMS updates, results and successes to the entire maintenance team.

Make sure all team members receive training on your SMS procedures. Track results of that training; then assess. Make changes if necessary and document those changes for future reference.

“Making your SMS scalable is important. If you’re a two-person department, a full-blown safety program with 20 forms to fill out isn’t going to do you much good.”

Kevin Honan Senior Operations Advisor, AviationManuals

Working with operators ranging from two people to more than 200, Honan has seen SMS interpreted through a variety of lenses – from a regulatory standpoint as well as an operator perspective.

“Making your SMS scalable is important,” Honan said. “If you’re a two-person department, a full-blown safety program with 20 forms to fill out isn’t going to do you much good.”

Honan recommends discussing how the safety-related data your operation is collecting is actually working. “If you’re just collecting data for the sake of collecting data, it’s a waste of everybody’s time,” he said. “But if you could find a way to tie that data to a valuable, pertinent goal that’s really important to people, they can see the maintenance team is making strides toward achieving the goal. The information we’re spending five-10 minutes documenting every day is actually contributing to safety, rather than just being a nuisance.”

NBAA: Key Provisions in FAA’s New SMS Rule Reflect Association Priorities

On April 23, 2024, NBAA commended FAA officials for reflecting NBAA feedback in key provisions included in the agency’s new final rule on SMS. Review the NBAA press release.

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