Sales over Safety & Profits over principle.

Aviation SMS
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Pillars of SMS

Toyota put sales over safety, and profit over principle,” said George Venizelos, assistant director of the FBI. “The disregard Toyota had for the safety of the public was outrageous. Not only did Toyota fail to recall cars with problem parts, they continued to manufacture new cars with the same parts they knew were deadly.

How many Regulatory heads, CEO’s of airline or other top policy makers have taken 5 days out of their schedule to understand what Safety Management System is?

Safety Management System was expected to perform like a magic pill when it was introduced in 2006. The subject was introduced in the form of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Doc 9859.

The manual was intended to provide States with guidance to develop the regulatory framework and the supporting guidance material for the implementation of safety management systems (SMS) by service providers. It also provides guidance for the development of a State safety programme (SSP), in accordance with the International Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs).

AccidentFinancial LossCost of fix
if done timely
Space Ship
about a billion USDFew hundred
thousand USD
Toyota recall
of cars
5.5 billion USDslippery mat
BP oil10 billionUSD128,000 & 10hrs
Small cost for safety

Ghatkopar crash in India exposed the entire machinery and the systemic failure.

The operator was given the air operator permit by the regulator without the mandatory Chief of Safety position, says the final investigation report.

Reasons for failure

Top management training and limited buy-in

Can you imagine the CEO of an airline sitting on a 5 day SMS course? Yes, there have been examples like the CEO of Emirates. However, in a setup where the top heads are ceremonial appointees, bureaucrats etc, there is little that can be done to educate the top management. Most heads are happy so long there are no accidents, their definition of safety is a limited one. What they need to realize is that anyone who is a policymaker needs to have a background in safety management system so that every time they make a decision, safety is always considered.

Safety culture

Airlines where there is no tradition or practice of asking the users how safe do they feel, often demonstrate poor safety culture. Airlines are so busy telling others what faults they did and how well the airline is managed that they miss out the key input of feedback.

Report handling

Does your airline promote reporting and how are the reports handled? Airlines make the right noise. They want safety but do not want to invest time & money into it. Therefore, they do say that they welcome feedback and open reporting but the feedback is seen as corporate criticism and reporting as complaining. The end result is that the reporting culture seizes to exist.

Safety performance indicator and matrix

Safety is normally prioritized by novices. In the true sense safety is engrained in every process and activity therefore it cannot be first or last. Since safety is perceptional, everyone has their views and risk tolerability. It then depends on whether you are from the production side or safety side. The critical balance of protection and production always tilts towards production.

Risk matrix of many organisations is skewed to paint a rosy picture. A catastrophic yet improbable accident is acceptable to a few airlines just to colour the events green.

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5X5 risk matrix


When safety becomes a chore and the organisation has to go through the motions, instead of getting oneself up to speed, parameters are adjusted to meet the goals. Easy targets are set, actions deferred, meetings postponed etc are signs that SMS is a necessity but not important. The ICAO USOAP audit report shows that a number of nations are still stuck in trying to establish the foundation of SMS, even years after the introduction of ICAO Annex 19. It is not about governance but the attitude of the organisations towards safety. High-reliability organisations get on overdrive mode when this is normal trying to get as much data to sift and identify new trends.


A state which itself is struggling to implement safety within the regulator does not have the ethical or moral ground for auditing the airlines and point out deficiencies. There is a need to understand that it is a collective responsibility and the total performance will reflect on the states ability to manage safety. Therefore it is vital that the regulator who audits the SMS of operators must have sufficiently trained and standardised personnel on SMS.

The magic pill

SMS is often considered as an action done and let the magic work. If the total is not the sum of its parts then any effort is going to fail. Just because SMS has been implemented on paper does not mean that it is functional and effective. Operations & Commercial interests in any organisation have a greater weightage as compared safety simply because the impact of safety or the consequences are not visualised at that instant and by the people who are not sensitised to it. Time and money are easily calculated as immediate losses whereas safety and quality are not revenue generators but cost savers. They payback in the long run.

The long term vision unfortunately is missing in the current day top management who are looking for immediate gains to secure better perks and promotions. Who suffers in the meanwhile, the organisation and safety.

About Capt. Amit Singh

I think therefore I am Airlines Operations and Safety balance expert. A former head of operations/training and safety of successful LCC's in India. An experienced member of the startup teams of these airlines has hands-on experience in establishing airlines systems and processes.

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