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Aviation Safety
Management Systems

An effective safety management system uses risk and quality management methods to achieve its safety objectives and is a systematic approach to managing safety, including the necessary organisational structures, accountabilities, policies and procedures. In addition, SMS also provides the organisational framework to establish and foster the development of a positive, corporate safety culture. The implementation of an SMS gives the organisation’s management a structured set of tools to meet their responsibilities for safety as defined by their regulator.

ICAO Document 9859

The ICAO Safety Management Manual (ICAO Document 9859) stipulates that individual CAAs are required to formulate a State Safety Program (SSP) which is an integrated set of regulations and activities aimed at improving safety. All service providers within the aviation industry are required to establish their own Safety Management Systems (SMS).

The SMS is an enterprise-wide undertaking and should be considered as part of the normal business processes. It is established using four main components:


ManagementCommitmentSafety RiskManagementSafety PolicySafety AssuranceSafety PromotionEstablishes senior management commitment to continually improve safety. Defines methods and processes needed to meetsafety goals.Continuous hazard identification that results in risk assessment process to determine suitable control mechanisms.Evaluates the continued effectiveness of implemented risk control strategies.Includes training, communication and other actions to create a safety culture across all levels of the workforce.

Risk is probably the most important management process to understand. All airline organisations must accept that they are exposed to risk but what is important is the recognition of those risks and then how they are controlled to an acceptable (tolerable) level. Of course, unless there exists a healthy and robust reporting culture, management will be unaware of the many hazards that may be present in their operation. The reporting culture will make or break the SMS.

A Vistair Insight

The Essential Guide to Safety Management Systems

This Vistair Insight provides an essential guide to aviation safety management systems that will help to outline guide key areas of ICAO’s safety guidelines, the benefits of a proactive safety culture and its role in enhancing an organisation’s safety management.


Over the past 70 years, our approach to safety management has changed. Back in the early 50s, safety was concerned primarily with the investigation of accidents; a very reactive process. Eventually, there was the recognition that humans and human performance were a significant contributor to aircraft accidents; to this day, human factors influence some 80% of events.

Other factors influence the human condition such as the effects of organisational policy (cost cutting, fatigue inducing roster patterns etc.). Furthermore, the general company culture could result in adverse human performance especially those with a “why fix it if it is not broken” attitude. An airline must embrace and promote an enterprise-wide safety culture.

Investigation ofAccidentsPerformance BasedManagement ReactivePredictiveTechnologyHuman factorsOrganisationCultureEnterprise-wide safety cultureThere has been a shift inemphasis from the purely technical to a more holistic approach towards safety management.19701990Today1950

Modern safety systems will assess all potential root causes of an incident including a thorough drill upwards through the company to determine if there are other organisational or cultural factors at play. Clearly, management have to conduct a careful balancing act between protection and commercial production as shown in the diagram below (Source: James Reason). To much focus on protection can limit the operation to the point of bankruptcy, whereas overstretching limited resources to achieve high levels of production can cause mistakes and errors which may lead to serious incidents. By carefully balancing financial and safety management, managers can confine their operation within the "Safety Space".



The Management DilemmaSafetyManagement Financial ManagementBankruptcyCatastropheSafetySpaceProtectionProduction

In order to allow management to make defensible and correct safety-based decisions, they need to be presented with appropriate information to determine the risk landscape to which their organisation is exposed. This can only be achieved by the establishment of a robust reporting culture in which employees are fully engaged in the management of safety.

Since its first publication in 2013, ICAO Annex 19 requires all States to establish a State Safety Program which, in turn, suggests that all service providers within the airline industry must formulate their own safety management system (SMS) that not only encapsulates the requirements above but also includes the definition of a ‘Company Safety Policy’ and the active promotion of safety throughout the business.

The four required processes are Safety Risk Management, Safety Assurance, Safety Promotion and Safety Policy. All of these components in the SMS are underpinned by “Management Commitment” which is a fundamental requirement to establish a robust SMS within the business. The SMS will underperform if the management team fail to engage their workforce and encourage a healthy and robust reporting culture.

A good organisational culture is often the prime catalyst for the effectiveness of a safety management system and indeed, SMS implementation. An effective safety management system can only be achieved by the establishment of a good reporting culture, and this can only be delivered if an airline has an enterprise-wide approach to safety and a positive, supportive human resource management structure. 

The effectiveness of an airline’s safety management system (SMS) is often measured by the number of reports it receives, therefore, providing an environment and the right technology that encourages voluntary reporting is a critical dynamic in a fully functioning SMS.

Supporting Voluntary Reporting

The problem some airlines face is how to develop such an approach when voluntary reporting has traditionally been low. Although a difficult thing to achieve, it is possible with appropriate management commitment and communication; and it is acknowledged that the safest airlines in the world have a higher than average level of voluntary reports. One thing in common to all of these airlines is that Safety is taken seriously at an enterprise-wide level. 

There are three main areas that can have a material effect upon a good reporting culture:

  • Safety Policy
    The organisation must produce and distribute a Safety Policy that is underwritten by the accountable manager (Usually the CEO). This Safety Policy will outline the corporate safety objectives and also identify those managers who have specific safety responsibilities and accountabilities.
  • Safety Promotion
    Safety promotion is crucial. The workforce will never feel fully engaged in safety management unless the senior team promote their policies and objectives widely.
  • Reporting Systems
    Providing the workforce with the means to submit reports easily is a vital element in a SMS. Additionally, it provides the safety management team with the ability to store, retrieve and analyse the submitted reports. This is known collectively as the Safety Data Collection and Processing System (SDCPS) and it forms an integral part of the SMS.

Culture Is At The Heart Of Safety

In general a failure to understand or address the culture element within an organisation, will mean that the safety management system will not perform as intended. As a consequence, the number of reports will be low, the level of hazard identification poor and the risk of incidents much higher. This in turn can have a dramatic effect upon the commercial effectiveness of the organisation, the ability to allocate limited resources effectively to reduce areas of potential safety and, at a corporate level, an impact upon the balance sheet. Culture is at the heart of an effective, efficient and commercially successful business.

Safety Performance Management is a key requirement for a functioning SMS. Implemented properly, it will give management an indication of how the business and its processes are performing in terms of meeting its safety objectives. Furthermore, the safety information provided will enable management to make informed and robust, data driven decisions. This is achieved through the identification and monitoring of SPIs that are (ideally) linked to the organisation’s safety objectives.

The diagram below (From ICAO document 9859) shows how safety performance management fits within the overall SMS of an organisation.

Safety Performance ManagementSDCPSSafetyAnalysisSafetyPromotionDefine/Refine Safety ObjectivesDefine/Refine Safety Performance IndicatorsMonitor and Measure Safety PerformanceIdentify Action Required

In order to achieve effective safety performance management (SPM), safety data has to be gathered, sorted, stored and recovered via the Safety Data Collection and Processing System (SDCPS). ICAO Annex 19 requires all service providers to develop and maintain an effective method for the collection, recording and formulation of actions for hazards in their operation.

This data is turned into useful safety information by completing various processing and analysis tasks, part of which is the recovery of useful information to determine whether or not the various SPIs are on track to meet their respective targets.

Safety Data Collection Choices

Clearly, each organisation will have differing requirements and priorities when it comes to safety data collection. Identifying and collecting the safety data should be aligned with the organisation’s need to manage safety effectively. In some cases, the SPM process will highlight the need for additional safety data to better assess the impact of a reported hazard and determine the associated risks.

Of importance for an SMS the collected safety data should be of a high quality and, ideally, in a format that allows for the easy dissemination to national authorities (for example the E5X format for ECCAIRS in EASA).

Equally it is essential that the hosted database is cyber secure, managed appropriately by a skilled IT services function and follows distinct principles around confidentiality, integrity and availability.

A Vistair Insight

Aviation SMS Software Selection Guide

Our essential guide explains the most important features and functionality an effective safety management system software needs to have.


The importance of selecting the right SMS software or software supplier should not be underestimated. Both the right supplier and software can enhance and support the entire approach to safety management whereas incorrect selection can severely disrupt and tarnish the safety objectives of an organisation.

There are a huge number of software suppliers in the SMS market and they all want your business. The internet is full of very glossy looking web pages and many of them claim to offer the “answer to a maiden’s prayer” in the form of a fully integrated suite of products that will not only provide a full SMS but also allow you to become almost predictive. Where do you start?

Selecting A Reporting Package

The most obvious place to begin your investigation is to decide on a suitable reporting package that is backed up by a robust and secure safety database.

In addition, it is worth at the outset, understanding the heritage of the supplier. An aviation-focused supplier is better able to not only understand the aviation environment but can usefully provide benchmarking information and networking between your airline and their other clients.

Safety management software should include the following:

  •  A reporting system
  •  A searchable safety database
  •  Hazard identification and risk assessment structure
  •  An assurance mechanism
  •  The ability to monitor SPIs and SPTs
  •  The means to present safety data in a useable fashion

From a usability perspective there are a number of salient features that merit consideration, here are just a few:

  •  Usability 
    The reporting system must be easy to use and appropriate prompts to reporters should be provided in the form of pop-up boxes.

  • Accessibility
    Modern reporting systems should be accessible both on and off-line via desk top and mobile applications.

  • Interface Options
    The ability to interface with other third-party applications e.g. the crewing system (i.e. AIMS). 

  • Feedback Automation & Workflows
    A feature that allows automatic transmission of reports to the right people and ensures a smooth reporting funnel.

  • Menu Consistency and Human Factors (HFACs) classification
    Drop down menus provide consistency for investigators whilst the HFACs element is a critical area in over 80% of events so is an essential aspect.

The Safety Database

A saying often quoted is that the airline industry is data rich but information poor. This is often because information gathered by the reporting system is then stored in an inefficient or poorly constructed database.

Failure to ensure that this aspect of data management is efficient will result in a number of unintended consequences including:

  • Inability to monitor SPIs / SPTs
  • Failure to identify emerging trends or highlight ‘hot spots’
  • Inconsistency in the use of event descriptors hinders cluster reports
  • Undetected ‘Latent Issues’
  • Misallocation of resources (i.e. missed opportunity to manage identified and unidentified hazards)

The selection of a partner that understands the issues faced by aviation organisations in today's busy and dynamic commercial environment is a prerequisite for any business that is focused upon the safety of its operation.

Helping To Select The Right Software

Selecting safety management software that is right for your airline need not be a burden. The advice we have provided on this page and in the free eBooks should give you the information you need to source a software solution that enhances your safety culture.

In short, a good software application should be able to improve the way you organise and review data, report and investigate incidents and, finally, support safety promotion.

A good safety management software system must be effective at providing a much-improved reporting culture as a result of its easy to use and accessible interface. Additionally, it must facilitate the analysis of reports to identify trends and prevent future incidents – transforming your airline into a more predictive organisation.

A Vistair Insight

10 Essential Questions to ask your SMS software supplier

This guide offers 10 crucial questions to ask your potential supplier that you can use as part of your RFI/RFQ to help you source a suitable partner to work with.



Aircraft Protected


Reduction in operating cost


Increased Incident Reporting


SafetyNet is a robust safety management reporting system and investigation solution that has been designed specifically to facilitate the submission of safety-related reports in a consistent and cohesive fashion. The application has been designed by taking input from some of the UK's leading airlines to address issues identified in their operations.

Feature-rich reporting software

By incorporating a set of feature-rich workflows, SafetyNet will meet the reporting needs of all organisations from the very small to the very large and complex.

It is an enterprise-wide system that can be compartmentalised for each department and user-access rights are controlled by use of Vistair’s UserNet application.

A bespoke workflow process

Once submitted, the report is assessed and can either be closed on receipt or forwarded for investigation. In either case, the reporter is informed by automatic email. Results of any investigation are also sent to reporters so that they can observe any subsequent management actions.

Safety recommendation workflows

Resultant safety recommendations can be tracked in a  separate workflow which allows the initial report to be closed.  This helps to avoid a large build-up of dormant reports pending the implementation of safety recommendations.

Automatic distribution engine

Included in the workflow is an automatic distribution engine (ADE). This is a powerful feature that can be programmed by administrators of the system. ADE can, for example, automatically distribute high risk reports immediately to selected managers so that any remedial actions can be implemented with minimal delay. The aim with a correctly developed ADE process is to avoid overwhelming the Safety Office.

SafetyNet mobile application

For reporters, SafetyNet includes a number of useful features that eases report completion. This includes the use of:

  • Report submission via web or mobile device
  • Crewing system integration (e.g. AIMS) to support auto field completion.
  • In-app spell checker is provided.
  • Drop-down menus
  • Mandatory filed identification
  • Help prompts and pop-up box
  • Reporter anonymity option.
  • Consistent descriptor taxonomy (supporting EU Regulation 376).
  • File attachment option (including audio, photo and video formats).
  • Data security - personal data is secure.

As well as providing an intuitive user interface, SafetyNet also incorporates some excellent features to smooth the administration and analysis of submitted reports:

  • Automatic report customisation and distribution to external agencies e.g. Ability to export files in the E5X format to comply with the requirements of ECCAIRS as stipulated in EU Regulation 376.
  • Incorporation of Event Risk Classification (ERC) to support initial submission risk assessment and future risk analysis.
  • A full audit trail.
  • Filter and Search facility is provided to allow easy access to data.
  • Aggregation of reports from multiple sources.

Increasing incidence reporting

In summary, SafetyNet is an intuitive and feature-rich application that has been designed specifically for the aviation sector based on feedback from the industry. Combining multi-platform utility in a cloud format with the ability to automate report distribution to internal and external parties, SafetyNet will support an increased reporting culture throughout your organisation.

A Vistair insight

10 Essential Questions to ask your SMS software supplier

This guide offers 10 crucial questions to ask your potential supplier that you can use as part of your RFI/RFQ to help you source a suitable partner to work with.



A key requirement for any functioning SMS is the establishment of a continual process of hazard reporting and risk control. Unless the safety management team are provided with regular hazard reports from the front line of the operation, it is highly likely that they will fail to understand and appreciate the true nature of the risk profile faced by their organisation.

Provision of an easy to use reporting system that is readily available and accepted by the workforce will help to improve the submission of voluntary reports.

The following list summarises the benefits provided by SafetyNet:

  • Usability and data confidentiality supports voluntary reporting
  • Supports a Just Culture environment.
  • Virtually real-time reporting.
  • Automated and programmable workflow management.
  • Automatic attachment of subsidiary reports as required by Authorities, for example, Bird Strike or AIRPROX reports.
  • Use of Human Factors Analysis and Classification System to ensure causal factors are properly identified.
  • Report completion support to ensure 100% information capture.
  • Data analysis supported by use of powerful filter and search capability.
  • Supporting Safety Management System compliance with requirements of ICAO Annex 19, Amendment 1.
  • Enterprise-wide system with user authorisation and control access.
  • Flexible reporting tool that can be applied for other report requirements.

A versatile and feature-rich application, SafetyNet will enhance the reporting culture in your organisation whilst also providing a compliant, important component of your SMS.

Vistair is an aviation focused provider of world-class aviation technology currently working with over 30 airlines across the world. Our SMS solution is currently deployed in a number of leading airline organisations including Delta Air Lines, DHL, easyJet, Norwegian and the Military Aviation Authority.


"easyJet saw a 60% increase in incident reporting by implementing SafetyNet"

Safety Manager | easyJet


"Developing a system that is intuitive, simple and quick enough to where the challenge lies"

Project Manager | MAA

Safety Management

Why do I need a safety management system?

What is a Safety Management System?

Who has responsibility for safety management in an organisation?

What are the benefits of an SMS to an aviation organisation?

What limits the value of an SMS?

How does Just Culture work with an SMS?


By using a service like DocuNet, will we lose control of our manuals?

Will DocuNet help my airline achieve regulatory compliance?

Do you have an EFB certificate?

How secure are your systems?

What formats will DocuNet distribute?

How are version changes made?

How complex can we go to tailoring for an audience?

Are we able to add Videos to our manuals?

Can you embed videos into our manuals?

Do you have a user community?

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