Understanding Safety / SMS Basic

SMS General

Like any system, SMS is an organised approach, a business-like approach, with precise processes. Management refers to the process of getting activities completed in effective and in efficient methods- without loses and waste in financial, human, time or equipment resources. In SMS, we include all the variables (procedures/ tools/ manuals/ staff/ hardware and software) used to manage safety. By understanding and recording these items, we aim to understand our safety situation.

SMS is a dynamic risk management process, based on Quality Management principles, in a structures and appropriate environment. It is an integral part of establishing an ethos and setting up the way we perform our business activities.

What SMS aims is to identify and rule out the extents of failure, to the highest degree possible. We aim to uncover the precursors of these failures that lead to safety events. Being a proactive system, under SMS, the performance of safety is constantly monitored, assessed, compared, improved; based on the plan and vision as set by the leadership and top management of the organisation. This requires a working understanding of the hazards, the risks, the human engineering, the organisational culture and the quality engineering involved in the daily activities of the company.

ICAO, having defined SMS as an organised approach to managing safety, including all the necessary organisational resources, accountabilities, policies and procedures, has mandated the SMS in all of the aviation activities of the member states.

Having a SMS provides the ability of foresight, the capacity to anticipate events, and address these events whilst in minor form, doing so in an effective and efficient way. SMS as mandated by ICAO requires both the authorities to have a State Safety Programme as well as the operators and service providers to have their own SMS.

SMS will allow for the integration of other management systems such as quality, occupational health and safety, environmental control etc.

ICAO structures the SMS on 4 pillars as the minimum requirement of an efficient and working system.


Based on the PDCA cycle (Plan – Do – Check – Act), SMS will provide a continuous monitoring and improvement process. It is the ideal method for balancing the production and the protection of the organisation, which is the constant management dilemma. It defines the boundaries through which the production output can move without compromising the protection barriers.

Management level

This balancing act is equally important and applicable to authorities through their SSP, as well as operators and service providers. No organisation was created to achieve safety, but to achieve production and financial profit like any other business. But through SMS we achieve this profitable operation within a safe environment protecting the organisation from failures. For this reason, SMS should become a core business function and become more than mere rules, procedures, classroom trainings and meetings. SMS should not be regarded as an undue burden, it should not be a stand-alone department operated independently and disconnected from the rest of the organisation and it should not at any point considered as a substitute for oversight or a self-regulation method.