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Updated: Sep 28, 2023

Dirk Coetzee, QAS Manager

Pilot checks: Safety Management System (SMS) for safe plane charter.
Safety is non-negotiable in aviation—an industry with zero tolerance for error. This article delves into Aerlink's Safety Management System (SMS) and its alignment with Australia's robust aviation regulations.

Safety is of paramount importance in the aviation industry. Oftentimes referred to as an unforgiving industry, there is very little to no room for error. The notion that safety is non-negotiable is commonly shared by all Aerlink employees across the business. With thousands of passengers on countless Aerlink charter flights taking off and landing each year, ensuring the safety of both passengers and crew is a daily top priority. If we can’t do it safely, we don’t do it at all.

So, how do we do it safely and what systems and fundamental processes does Aerlink employ to ensure safety is maintained at the highest level?

We invite you to walk with us through this short article with the hope of providing some insight into our Safety Management System and its various components. But before we do, a brief paragraph on where we fit into the bigger aviation regulatory picture.

Regulatory Framework: CASA's Role

Aerlink operates under the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) of Australia. We adhere to international safety standards, ensuring we meet all obligations for Safety Management, Air Operation Certification, and Aircraft Maintenance.

Australia boasts a robust aviation regulatory framework that supports aviation safety in its entirety. With the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) of Australia as the nation's independent aviation safety regulator responsible for overseeing aviation safety standards, regulations, and practices, CASA’s regulatory framework incorporates international standards and best practices. With Australia as a council state to the International Civil Aviation Organization, CASA’s commitment to safety ensures harmonization with global safety norms, fostering cooperation and enhancing aviation safety worldwide. Aerlink ensures that it meets all its obligations under CASA’s regulatory framework for Safety Management, Air Operation Certification, Aircraft Maintenance and Continuing Airworthiness Management.

Core of Aerlink: Our SMS

Our SMS is not just a regulatory requirement; it's a business imperative. It's integrated into our Flight Operations, Engineering, and Continuing Airworthiness Management divisions.

Aerlink’s Safety Management System, or SMS for short, allows for a systematic approach to managing safety across all business departments. It defines the Company’s policies, procedures, and systems in use to effectively manage safety through an underlying foundation of mitigating risk associated with the air transportation services we deliver to our valued customers. It forms the backbone of our Flight Operations, Engineering and Continuing Airworthiness Management divisions and is positioned at the very core of everything we do. And yes, as a registered aviation Company in the Australian aviation industry, we are required to have a Safety Management System in operation by means of regulatory requirements, but let’s be clear, Aerlink applies its Safety Management System not because it is a mandated requirement, but because we continuously strive to deliver a safe air transport solution for our customers. To put it plainly, because of the market we operate in, it makes perfect business sense to do everything we do in the safest possible way.

Safety Culture: Reporting and Review

We encourage open reporting of safety incidents. A daily Safety Review Board meeting ensures immediate attention and mitigation of potential risks.

Aerlink prides itself on a safety culture where all stakeholders, from maintenance crews to pilots and management, actively contribute to identifying and addressing safety concerns. Our Company’s reporting mechanisms allow employees to report safety-related incidents or observations without fear of retribution, ensuring that potential risks are brought to management’s attention and addressed before they escalate. A daily Safety Review Board meeting with CEO and key position holder involvement ensures that any issue with a potential for harm and an inherent risk is discussed, analysed, risk ranked and mitigated at the earliest opportunity. Our reporting culture encourages a proactive approach to safety, meaning that we are constantly one step ahead of any potential risk.

SMS Components: Aligning with ICAO

Our SMS has four key components and thirteen elements, closely aligned with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Annexure 19.

Aerlink’s SMS embraces four key components and thirteen elements that align very closely with the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Annexure 19. These four key components form the cornerstones or pillars of our SMS. It defines our safety policy and objectives, allows us to identify and manage safety-related hazards and risk effectively and it further assures and promotes safety within Aerlink. Through the process of communicating safety critical information externally, i.e. sharing lessons learnt and negative safety trends with the wider aviation industry, our SMS allows the Company to contribute to the greater good of the aviation industry in Australia.

Component 1: Safety Policy and Objectives

Our safety policy is reviewed quarterly. It sets the stage for Emergency Response Planning (ERP) and is the basis for continuous improvement.

Aerlink’s safety policy sets the organisation’s intent for achieving safety. It defines our safety objectives and demonstrates management's commitment to achieving safety through these objectives. The policy appoints the key personnel responsible for safety and assigns accountability for safety at the highest level. Additionally, it sets the requirements for Aerlink’s Emergency Response Planning (ERP) strategy and defines the documentation the Company requires to support the Safety Management System.

As a fundamental part of Aerlink’s Safety Management System, the safety policy is reviewed by Aerlink’s senior leadership team every three months and the Company’s safety performance is measured against each objective under the policy. Trend analysis is completed where both positive and negative trends are identified. One of the Company’s main objectives is to build on positive trends while eliminating negative trends. If it has a tendency to work well, we want more of it, and if it doesn’t, we turn it into an opportunity for improvement, which is one of the key elements of Aerlink’s SMS.

Failure to continuously improve on business-related systems and processes is a definition that will not be found in the Aerlink dictionary. A great amount of energy is invested into the Company’s SMS to ensure it actively draws out improvement opportunities. This is one of the fundamental reasons why Aerlink promotes an open and honest reporting culture within the Organisation. Our viewpoint of “if we know about it, we can do something about it” holds true.

Continuous improvement is achieved by applying a methodology known as the Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) cycle. The PDCA is a systematic process for gaining valuable learning and knowledge for the continual improvement of a product, process, or service. As the name suggests, the first step in the process is to Plan the improvement with stakeholder engagement. Once the improvement plan is in place, the next step is to implement the improvement. This is the “Do” part and once this is completed, the improvement is Checked or measured for effectiveness and the results are acted upon. The wonderful thing about the PDCA cycle is that it can be repeated as many times as needed until the desired result is achieved. Aerlink’s SMS capitalise on this concept until a desired improvement is achieved after which time it is internally standardised and becomes the new standard.

Component 2: Safety Risk Management

We employ tools like "Take 5" and Job Safety and Environmental Analysis (JSEA) to manage risk at the task level, aiming for risk mitigation to an "As Low As Reasonably Practicable" (ALARP) level.

The second fundamental component of our Safety Management System is safety risk management. Under this component, safety hazards and their associated risks are identified and effectively managed to ensure any real or potential risk is mitigated to an “As Low As Reasonably Practicable” (ALARP) level and where these risk levels are reduced to fall well within Aerlink’s risk tolerance, that is to say, that the degree of risk or uncertainty sits at a level that is acceptable to the organization. A careful design of the Company’s risk management process ensured that the risk management principles called for by the ISO 31000 standard are applied under the SMS and involve some basic, yet fundamental steps that allow for risk identification, analysis, mitigation and control. The Company’s SMS seeks to control risk by applying the hierarchy of controls from most effective to least effective, denoting that Aerlink’s first approach to managing risk is to eliminate the risk altogether.

In addition to Aerlink’s risk management process under its SMS, the Company employs some very basic, yet highly effective tools for managing risk on task level. The Company’s “Take 5” tool is a methodology employed by Aerlink where every employee is trained to apply 5 basic steps for identifying and managing risk on task level. Take 5 signifies “Stop, Think, Identify, Plan and Proceed”. The tool is highly effective in allowing an individual to stop and think about the task at hand before the task is commenced, to identify and assess any risk associated with the task, and to plan the task in a way that will mitigate any risk before proceeding with the task.

Another risk management tool in our toolbox is Aerlink’s Job Safety and Environmental Analysis (JSEA), which allows staff to plan a task and identify task-associated hazards and risks at each individual step through the task. The JSEA considers all elements of task completion including the people involved in the task, the equipment and tools to be used, procures that may apply and environmental conditions. Key to the success of the JSEA is that its completion needs to be done with involvement from all staff that will actively participate in the task. In so doing, all staff contribute to the JSEA and are made aware of any hazards and risks associated with the task. Aerlink’s SMS recognises the importance of the JSEA in managing risk and ensures that its staff are trained in its completion.

Component 3: Safety Assurance

Internal audits and safety investigations are part of our assurance program. We adhere to ISO 31000 standards for risk management.

The safety assurance component of Aerlink’s SMS embraces processes that endeavour to assure safety within the organisation at all levels and through all disciplines. This includes a comprehensive assurance program through internal surveillance of all the Company’s Engineering, Flight Operations and Continuing Airworthiness Management processes and procedures. Once a year, and notwithstanding any regulatory and other 3rd party audits, all disciples within Aerlink are subject to a robust internal audit program where audits are completed by highly trained and competent internal auditors. The internal audit program seeks to test the degree of compliance with regulatory and other requirements that may apply. Audit findings are used in performing trend analysis which in turn is used for continuous improvement.

Other elements of Aerlink’s SMS under the Safety Assurance component include safety investigations where any incident is investigated by staff trained in investigative techniques, monitoring of the Company’s safety performance, management of change within the organisation and a complete review of our SMS effectiveness every three months.

Component 4: Safety Promotion

We focus on rigorous training programs and the communication of safety-critical information, both internally and to external stakeholders.

The fourth and last component of Aerlink’s SMS is Safety Promotion. Through this component, Aerlink’s SMS actively seeks to promote safety within the boundaries of the organization but to also play its part in contributing to safety in the wider aviation industry. Safety promotion is achieved through mainly two primary elements. The first element is ensuring that a safety training program exists for all employees where they can be trained to perform their duties in accordance with approved technical data and procedures and where they acquire the necessary knowledge necessary to perform their duties. A highly trained and skilled workforce is critical to aviation safety. Australia places a strong emphasis on aviation education and training, and it is no different here at Aerlink. Aspiring pilots undergo rigorous training programs, which include theoretical knowledge, flight simulations, and hands-on flying experience. Training institutions adhere to CASA-approved standards, ensuring that pilots and other aviation professionals are well-prepared to handle various scenarios, from routine operations to emergency situations.

Continuing education is also a fundamental aspect of maintaining aviation safety. Pilots and crew members are required to undergo recurrent training to stay current with the latest regulations, procedures, and technologies. This commitment to ongoing skill development enhances the ability of aviation professionals to respond effectively to unexpected challenges. Aerlink’s training program incorporates both technical and non-technical training and endeavours to instil knowledge of both an operational and administrative nature to ensure that both operational and supportive personnel are well equipped in terms of knowledge.

The second element under Safety Promotion is the communication of safety-critical information. The communication of safety-critical information is not confined within Aerlink’s boundaries only, but often time needs to step outside these boundaries to make other stakeholders aware of safety-critical information. These stakeholders include the Regulator, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, the aircraft manufacturer and the aircraft operator. Lessons learnt are communicated internally at Aerlink’s quarterly Safety Review Board Meeting and a weekly leadership meeting showcases communication as a standing agenda point where a determination is made on any information deemed necessary to be communicated and the stakeholder/s it should be communicated to.

Conclusion: Safety First, Always

Australia's aviation industry is globally recognized for its safety standards. At Aerlink, we share this commitment and continuously strive to advance our systems and processes for a safe air travel experience.

Australia's commitment to aviation safety is evident through its comprehensive regulatory framework, state-of-the-art technologies, rigorous training programs, and proactive safety management systems. By adhering to international standards, fostering a safety-first culture, and continuously improving its safety practices, Australia's aviation industry maintains its reputation for safe skies. As air travel continues to evolve, the nation's dedication to safety ensures that passengers and crew can confidently take to the skies, knowing that their well-being is paramount.

At Aerlink, we share this notion and acknowledge that the safe delivery of every worker must remain our highest priority. We are confident that our Safety Management System and its supporting processes place Aerlink in a favourable position to deliver a safe air travel experience.

We acknowledge that the safety of every worker we fly to work starts with us and so our focus will remain on advancing our systems and processes to ensure that safe operation is supported through every aspect of our business.

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