Overview

An SMS-based Risk Control Process is a way of systematically identifying the risks and then deciding whether to accept, reduce, or eliminate them as well as looking at the results of the decisions to ensure the intended results. While the SMS framework in based on the widely-adopted ISO standards for quality management, airlines are struggling to implement the framework successfully.

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Airline safety is fast becoming increasingly complex and controversial. In recent times, discovering that critical safety checks had not been conducted on schedule, federal inspectors blew the whistle on Southwest Airlines, levying millions of US Dollars in fine from the airline company. In yet another instance, another major airlines in United States temporarily grounded dozens of Boeing 777s to test their cargo fire-suppression systems after a review of maintenance records showed a test on part of the system hadn't been performed. Such incidents have raised safety concerns amongst the airlines, the government and air travelers alike and there is a widespread awareness that safety inspections are serious business- they cannot be allowed to become haphazard.

For the aviation industry, being safe is the right thing to do, and it is the law, too. The Federal Aviation Agency, that regulates the airlines, has adopted safety as its mission and holds, "Our mission is to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world and our mantra is to improve the safety and efficiency of aviation, while being responsive to our customers and accountable to the public”. The compliance mandates released by the FAA impacts all business functions of the aviation industry - operationally and strategically. Mandates such as Continuous Analysis and Surveillance require airlines to have a method of measuring effectiveness and performance of maintenance and inspection, and Internal Evaluation Programs for continual monitoring of internal processes, programs and procedures.

On April 10, 2008, the Inspector General of FAA testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security, "Aviation safety oversight is-and must remain-FAA's highest priority. For over 10 years, our work has focused on actions needed to maintain the integrity and safety of our aviation system. However, a number of high-profile events, including fundamental breakdowns in FAA oversight at Southwest Airlines, have raised legitimate concerns about the effectiveness of FAA's overall approach to safety oversight and what changes are needed." His testimony brought focus on the key challenges being faced by the aviation industry.

The 2006 Advisory Circular titles Introduction to Safety Management Systems for Air Operators introduced the concept of a Safety Management System (SMS) to aviation service providers calling for a systems approach to creating an effective Risk Control process to enable organizations to systematically process safety information, both proactively and reactively, in order to develop safety plans, programs, and specific actions that get results in terms of reducing risk. In other words, an SMS-based Risk Control process is a way of systematically identifying the risks and then deciding whether to accept, reduce, or eliminate them as well as looking at the results of the decisions to ensure the intended results.

While the SMS framework in based on the widely-adopted ISO standards for quality management, airlines are struggling to implement the framework successfully. Key challenges facing the aviation service providers include:: 

Safety Training: Aviation training is practically as old as the aviation industry itself. James J. Ballough, Director, Flight Standards Service for FAA holds that the surest way to improve aviation safety is through awareness, education, and training. An overview of accidents from early days of jet aviation tell a compelling story of why aviation industry must remain vigilant of the importance of good training in accident prevention, whether it be training for pilots, mechanics, or flight attendants.

But training in aviation industry has always been a challenge, particularly in the wake of ever changing technology and regulatory requirements. Most aviation companies today are struggling to streamline training procedures and monitor the effectiveness of training, essential to reduce the risk of noncompliance. Moreover, regulatory pressures have created the need for specialized training for aviation employees, so that they can learn and apply the best practices to streamline safety processes and meet the regulatory mandates. Tasks like monitoring overall skill pool availability across organizational levels, defining employees in the system by job codes, roles and responsibilities, maintaining their training requirements and history, measuring gaps in employees' training record and their training plan and tracking completeness of employee training plans and career goals seem formidable to many. The main question baffling most airlines is: “How can we maintain training efficiency in the face of rapidly evolving technology, dynamic operations and ever increasing safety requirements?” 

Airplane Maintenance and Inspection: Airline maintenance organizations face many challenges in ensuring that their aircraft are kept safe to fly at an affordable cost. Managing and maintaining aviation assets involves a complex set of interconnected activities - requiring effective equipment facilities management for constant uptime and controlled maintenance costs. Through the years, airline companies developed elaborate paper-based systems to manage the abundance of mandated safety procedures to ensure that maintenance was performed according to set standards and schedules. In recent years, airline companies looking to improve their profit margins began seeking cost-cutting measures, such as the elimination of inefficient paper-based or legacy-system based maintenance practices. Further, issues like battling risk of non-compliance, gaining real-time visibility into equipment inventory, containing maintenance and repair costs, checking nonconformance and deviations by linking equipment with corrective and preventive actions for a closed-loop quality and safety process and controlling maintenance related departure delays are but a few of the daily headaches of the aviation Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) executive.

Safety Audits and Assessments: Two weeks after levying a record fine against Southwest Airlines for safety lapses, the FAA ordered its inspectors to audit the safety programs of all U.S. airlines. The Air Transport Association of America lauded the FAA's move saying,"This is a prudent move by the FAA that will validate the effectiveness of airline compliance systems. Audits such as this, along with the countless others being performed by the airlines, help create the redundancies that make our aviation system the safest in the world."Safety audits or assessments should be conducted regularly; as such assessments ensure that correct procedures are being followed."Complying with regulations is no longer enough'' says an FAA Administrator, "We have to find new ways to raise the bar and ensure the highest standards of safety are the norm'. There are, however, large number of audits to be carried out, each of which is detail oriented and requires enormous amount of data collection.  Most airline auditors are grappling to successfully carry out numerous audits and need a sophisticated system in place for functions like planning, scheduling and conducting audits, allowing audit findings to be reviewed and analyzed by a team, enabling initiation of follow-up activities such as corrective and preventive actions when needed, and providing the ability to monitor the entire process.

Hazard Identification and Risk Management: Several airline companies, today, are realizing the virtues of gaining visibility and control on the multitude of internal and external risks; and hence, looking to systemically identify, measure, prioritize and tackle all types of risk and then manage any exposure based on organization's strategy and priorities. These companies are already pursuing fairly robust approach and a structured management system, which identifies operational safety hazards, determines potential risks associated with those hazards, assesses the impact of those risks and, if warranted, develops and implements a mitigating action plan to reduce the risk to an acceptable level. This also includes implementing an integrated and flexible framework for documenting and assessing risks, defining controls, managing assessments and audits, identifying issues, leveraging automated tools risk calculators and risk heat maps, and implementing recommendations and remediation plans.

Data and Records Management: An ideal safety management program emphasizes formal documentation, in form of appropriate manuals, directives and instructions, of all activities related to safety. In contrast, a vast majority of airline companies today are gathering much more data than they are effectively using; and facing challenges in  taking the huge stream of data, increasing its quality, decreasing multiple sources and clerical efforts, and processing it into information, knowledge and ultimately actionable decisions. Companies following manual and paper-based processes for managing safety policies and control documents are fast realizing that such approach is inefficient, costly, and unsustainable. Be it safety records, process narratives, SOPs, compliance records or regulatory filings, inability to manage the increasing number of documents can be a bottleneck for any enterprise.

Meeting the Challenges - An Integrated Safety, Quality and Compliance Management Solution for the Airline Industry

Recently, MetricStream announced that one of the world's largest passenger airlines (a Fortune 500 company) is implementing the MetricStream solution for streamlining and managing a wide range of audits for their safety and compliance initiatives to meet various FAA mandates, critical for airline operations including Line Observation Safety, Internal Evaluation Program, Flight Safety, Ground Safety, Maintenance Safety & Compliance, Maintenance & Engineering, Quality Assurance, Codeshare Safety Oversight Program, System Safety & Analysis, Occupational Safety, Safety and Quality Evaluations.  MetricStream is providing an integrated solution for managing the complete audit process including risk assessment, audit planning and scheduling, development of standard audit plans and checklists, field data collection, development of audit reports and recommendations, review of audit recommendations and corrective or preventive actions (CAPAs).

Companies are managing increasingly complex compliance programs for which auditing processes are not well integrated and handled with a heterogeneous set of auditing tools and systems. MetricStream's Audit Management solution is a comprehensive and flexible solution for regulated environments enabling enterprise-wide visibility and control that localized point-applications do not provide,” said Carl McCauley, Vice President at MetricStream. “Our experience in providing auditing, operational compliance and quality management solutions to some of the top global corporations will enable this airlines to implement industry best practices in quality, safety and compliance management in order to reduce costs, shorten cycle times and improve overall process efficiencies.”

Two elements are placed firmly at the top of the value pyramid of most aviation companies, safety and quality- dominating thoughts and actions, and underpinning company’s commitment to customers and stakeholders. The safety of the aviation industry is critical both in terms of accident and incident prevention, and the financial performance of the industry. As aptly put by one of aviation auditors, “Risk management, internal control and compliance will be some of the most important business developments in the aviation industry in the years to come.”

MetricStream offers an integrated solution for successfully meeting the increasing regulatory and reporting requirements from the FAA including ADs while lowering the associated costs that can otherwise be substantial. The solutions serve as enablers of new levels of productivity, regulatory compliance, reduced costs and effective quality, safety and risk management. These solutions automate the entire inspection and conformance lifecycle from initial receipt of ADs, recording of inspections, instant launching of corrective actions and preventive actions (CAPAs), real time reporting to FAA and audit management. Additionally, MetricStream solutions translate the impact of these mandates on cross enterprise level compliance requirements and enterprise wide risk to the business.

Given the volume of safety directives issued annually by the FAA and the need for immediate response, documentation and reporting MetricStream's customers are realizing significant efficiency gains and ROI from using its solutions. MetricStream solution features include controls to ensure timely reviews and adherence to quality mandates, audit management including that of the extended supply chain, accelerated issue management and verification including CAPAs, document management and reports that cover inspections and maintenance, embedded best practices from other airlines, executive level dashboards for management oversight and visibility, and compliance and enterprise risk management frameworks.

Conclusion
Airlines face numerous compliance challenges, including complying with regulations and initiatives set forth by the FAA, IOSA and similar regulatory bodies. In addition to demonstrating safety compliance, airline firms must also exemplify their conformity to safety standards. Most airlines rely on safety audits which allow aviation professionals to focus on a safety concern, pinpoint the location of a failure, and take immediate steps to correct the problem. MetricStream moves beyond basic compliance to ensure safety and quality in the operations across the entire value chain. MetricStream offers an integrated solution for successfully meeting the increasing regulatory and reporting requirements from the FAA while lowering the associated costs that can otherwise be substantial. The solutions serve as enablers of new levels of productivity, regulatory compliance, reduced costs and effective quality, safety and risk management.

Safety Risk Management and Safety Assurance Process

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