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Safety Management Systems Are Catching On With Smaller Operators — And Getting Better!

Posted 115 days ago ago by Admin

There is no doubt that implementing safety management systems (SMS) leads to safer, more predictable flight operations for helicopter and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) owners/operators. Although larger helicopter operators have had the resources to launch in-house SMS for years, many smaller helicopter operators have found the implementation/maintenance of safety management to be outside their reach. (Note: UAS companies can learn about UAS-specific SMS through the International Civil Aviation’s website.)
Thankfully, Helicopter Association International (HAI) has stepped up to fill this gap for helicopter operators. In October 2021, HAI launched an SMS program designed for small operators and for others who also have cost concerns.
“An SMS helps you identify hazards — from a broken hangar door and chemicals in the workplace to regulatory noncompliance, improperly trained personnel, and more — and develop the culture it takes to plan for, see, track, and resolve the potentially dangerous and costly safety risks that come with them,” says the HAI SMS program’s website. “HAI has partnered with four SMS industry leaders to provide big savings to HAI members who don’t already have an SMS in place ... each provider’s pricing is different. However, HAI members who haven’t yet subscribed receive substantial savings, which can offset the cost of membership.”
According to HAI Director of Safety Chris Hill, small helicopter operators are embracing the HAI SMS program. “Since we launched the program two years ago, we have been getting lots of interest from HAI members,” he says. “Well over a dozen of our HAI members are using SMS products and solutions offered by our four providers right now. We’re very pleased at the pace at which the SMS program is taking off.”

Four Provider Options
The four HAI SMS providers offer four different options for HAI members, at different prices.
According to the HAI SMS program page:

“Air Charter Safety Foundation (ACSF) offers a simple, yet customizable SMS for very small to large flight departments, FBOs, and MROs. Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA) offers SMS software and training solutions exclusively for maintenance and repair organizations. Baldwin Safety & Compliance offers the Baldwin SMS Product Suite with options for small, medium-sized, and large businesses. WYVERN Ltd. offers SMS software, a fast start assessment, ongoing coaching, and upgrade options for small to large organizations.”
Available at www.acsf.aero/acsf-sms-toolkit, the Air Charter Safety Foundation (ACSF) SMS Tool is meant to make SMS programs affordable for everybody. “No aircraft operation is too small to implement our comprehensive, secure and mobile-friendly SMS software,” the ACSF SMS  web page explains. This affordability is in line with the ACSF’s purpose: “We are a 501c3 non-profit organization that has a simple mission to help the whole aviation industry improve safety,” says Bob Rufli, the ACSF’s director of operations.

The Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA) has a different approach to SMS. According to the AEA’s SMS website, the AEA manages its SMS program with each participating company member functioning as a “department” in the main program. The AEA’s SMS web page explains that the AEA acts as each participating member company’s director of safety. with a member company designated as safety representative, or SMS coordinator, on-site at each of the member company’s locations.
Baldwin Safety and Compliance offers a full range of SMS programs and training for UAS operators as well as for helicopter companies at baldwinaviation.com. “Our company’s
flagship product is a proprietary software platform that helps organizations implement and maintain an SMS,” says Jason Starke, Baldwin’s director of safety. “We are a team of safety management experts who engage with clients to help them understand SMS and provide implementation support if needed.”
Wyvern (wyvernltd.com) is also a full service SMS program and training provider. “Our company has been in the aviation safety risk management business since 1991,” says Andrew Day, Wyvern’s senior vice president of operations. “We have recently partnered with HAI to extend our services in a scaled and meaningful way to the rotorcraft operators.”

Data is Driving Improvements
SMS is not just about safety management practices: It is also about data: aircraft and trip information that is being captured in flight and on the ground everyday.
This data is driving improvements in safety management systems as they evolve to better collect and make sense of this information and use it to provide useful, actionable insights to helicopter and UAS operators.
“What’s new in SMS? Well, the primary change has been the shift towards data analysis,” Baldwin’s Starke says. “This is because SMS is data-intensive by nature. This data analysis drives the development of necessary operational measures to determine if processes are performing as designed, that risk controls are performing effectively, and that the organization is meeting its stated safety objectives. While this intent has always been part of the SMS design, organizations in the last five to 10 years have become more aware of this need and have put it into practice in their systems.”
Algorithms (small programs that use sequences of finite steps to solve particular problems) are the heart of SMS data analysis. For instance, algorithm-based SMS software can collect and crunch the data generated by a helicopter’s avionics and engines to provide a clear picture of what happened in flight. “Say that we had a near miss with another helicopter,” says Wyvern’s Day. “The SMS algorithms can recreate what happened in flight so that it can be analyzed on the ground afterwards, allowing for safety procedures to be adjusted so that this doesn’t happen again.”
This same SMS software can detect how many times such near misses have happened in the past, and on whose flights, based on the software’s comparison of the most recent dataset of past recorded events. “We can then look at pilot fatigue reports to spot trends, and take meaningful, positive action to reduce the circumstances that allowed this to happen, in the future,” Day says.
New Possibilities
As good as today’s SMS platforms are, it is always possible to make them better. One way to do this is by using artificial intelligence (AI) to support the collection of much more data, plus the enhanced analysis of this data, to provide safety managers with actionable options.
This is the true genius of AI-enabled SMS. An AI-enabled system can sift through the data, spot patterns, and compare these patterns to those within its data storage system to find similarities and draw conclusions. These conclusions can then be compared by AI against the success of past responses to the data patterns, to identify what responses stand the best chance of explaining and remedying the patterns that AI has detected. It is these optimal responses that are offered to human operators, sparing them the time and effort of going through the data themselves.
“I think artificial intelligence running in the background can certainly help SMS software more quickly identify emerging trends,” says Day. “I feel the use of AI will become prominent to help decision-makers with the data coming in from the SMS,” Starke adds. “As well, new ideas and paradigms such as Safety-II, human and organizational performance (HOP), resilience, and complexity are coming into the general safety space. These ideas may have an impact on what we measure in SMS, how we look at defenses within the system, and how we assess risk.”
A second way to get more out of SMS is to harness the data collected by smartphones, tablets and other consumer devices, and combine it with aircraft data to provide a more complete resource for AI-enabled analysis. “After all, SMS is all about managing safety,” says ACSF’s Rufli. “The more data sources you have to work with, the better your tools can work in coming up with conclusions and actionable options.”
Add the ability to store, access, and share SMS data in the cloud, and there’s lots of room for SMS to expand the range of data it collects and analyzes. In turn, this enhanced analysis by AI-enhanced SMS software will improve the level of safety at which helicopter and UAS companies operate without adding to their day-to-day workloads. In fact, AI will likely reduce these workloads for humans.

The Human Factor
Speaking of humans, as important as AI is and will be in enabling effective SMS, it is vital to remember that people pilot rotorcraft and control UAS, not machines. Even in a future where both may fly autonomously, it will still be people who program the systems that control them. This is why paying attention to the human factor will always be vital in designing, configuring and maintaining SMS platforms — and why any actions derived from them must always be considered in terms of their impacts on pilots and ground crews before being put into play.
“Our philosophy at Wyvern is that 80% of aviation accidents and incidents are caused by human beings making a mistake,” Day says. “In the past, the old-school way of dealing with that would be to lower the fist and fire somebody. Nowadays our approach to safety management is to embrace those mistakes, understand why they happened, and take steps to reduce their chances of happening again by coaching staff on how to do things differently and not make the mistakes again.”
The power of SMS is making this positive, preventative approach to helicopter and UAS operations possible. This is in line with what is happening in helicopter maintenance and repair. Tracking and comparing the real-time performance of aircraft components/systems against known symptoms of failures allows operators to respond preventatively to problems before they become serious. This is vastly preferable to being unexpectedly confronted by aircraft-on-ground situations at the worst possible times, along with accidents that claim lives and destroy machinery.
This is why advances in SMS are really advances in helicopter/UAS business management. Safe operations are cost-effective operations. When a helicopter/UAS company isn’t constantly reacting to safety emergencies and spending time and money to address them they can focus on what really matters: flying their aircraft, paying the bills, and hopefully making a profit.

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