Safety as a top priority

In aviation, the goal is to run operations with minimal risks. This article discusses how Management, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) activities ensure the safety of planes and ultimately that of passengers, and how risk management is integrated into Safety Management Systems.

Safety as a top priority
As managers, we never tire of hearing testimonies about the link between success and a desire to take risks. In reality, risk is inherent in everyday life and all human activities. However, in aviation and particularly when undertaking Maintenance, Repair & Overhaul (MRO), the goal is to run operations without risks or with acceptable risks.

In light of the potential for disastrous consequences, the operational culture must be one of risk aversion. This means a thorough and consistent approach to risk management; from identifying the risks and measures to remove and mitigate them to creating indicators that allow us to monitor the success of the actions implemented. Because safety is the top priority for all aviation activities, this risk management process is integrated into a Safety Management System (SMS).

Aircraft Maintenance Programme (AMP)
The maintenance of aircraft, engines and components is necessary, not only to ensure the safety of people and cargo, butalso for economic reasons, as in the long–term they are not disposable goods.
The AMP is the key reference point for MRO activities; it is a document approved by the aeronautical authorities and produced by operators following aircraft manufacturers’ guidelines.
Known as MSG3 it defines which tasks must be fulfilled and how. In reality, this wasn’t always the case. Until the advent of jet aviation, it was the mechanics themselves who empirically developed aircraft maintenance programmes. Later on, during the development of the B747 project, Boeing felt the need to produce something more robust.

Today, maintenance activities analyse all of the plane’s systems, taking into account the safety, operational and economic risks and their consequences, whether visible to the crew or not.
This means all maintenance activities connected with aircraft, engines and careful risk management of the planes’ systems, operating or at rest.

Maintenance intervals are measured in hours of flight time, cycles (one taking‑off and one landing constitutes one cycle) and calendar days. Experience and probability models determine these parameters.

Safety Management System (SMS)
Safety management is the systematic management of risks associated with MRO activities to ensure the highest levels of protection. SMS in any airline or MRO organization is one of the responsibilities of senior management who must publish a safety policy and manage it as an integral part of the business.

It is important the SMS follows quality management protocols and is considered by differing management levels as an essential strategic tool, as for example, an accident or near accident may have serious financial consequences.

If a culture of safety exists at all levels within an organisation, it will strongly influence its working practices.

The SMS should be both proactive and reactive, providing via processes and procedures, mechanisms to predict, prevent and mitigate the effect of safety hazards. Implementation success is closely linked to three pillars: corporate safety compliance, a safety‑focused organisational structure and effective monitoring systems.

The requirements of corporate safety compliance are:
a. The publication of the differing management safety responsibilities and main stakeholders
b. A definition of the requirements of the safety person in charge
c. An ability to demonstrate the management team promotes a positive safety culture throughout the organization
d. Evidence that safety is top priority in all business policies, principles and practices
e. A commitment to a process of independent safety monitoring, not dependent upon managerial strategies
f. Regular analysis to improve safety plans
g. Formal processes for safety analysis

A safety‑ focused organisational structure has the following features:
a. Specific procedures for the recruitment, integration, training and development of employees
b. Management and employee safety awareness training
c. Early monitoring procedures and corrective actions for equipment, system or service safety failures
d. Means to monitor and record safety standards
e. Effective management of resources to correctly identify safety threats and to analyse and control risks
f. Change management strategies
g. Processes that enable employees to voluntary report safety‑ related issues to line managers for solving and monitoring actions taken
h. Regular exercises to test the effectiveness of emergency response plans
i. Safety impact assessments on trade policies

Effective monitoring systems should:
a. Analyse and monitor flight records in order to assess performance and detect any unreported safety issues
b. Collate and document all safety reports
c. Focus on safety audits results and problems as they arise
d. Publish the results of internal safety investigation processes and any respective corrective actions
e. Share safety data when evaluating organisational performance and include structural changes within the risk management process. Finally, a robust SMS must have in place processes to consistently promote safety and evaluate the results achieved, adopt the best industrial practices and use an independent body to periodically review their effectiveness.
For the aerospace industry and its MRO activities, risk management is an essential safety tool and key contributor to business success. Such is the level of attention it requires and in recognition of the importance of the processes and technology involved, and its economic impact, SMS was given ISO 9110 accreditation in 2016.

By Mario Lobato de Faria, TAP Air Portugal

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