What’s SMS really about? CAA Director Graeme Harris discusses…

16 October 2013 / by the GAA team / Consultation, Costs, Governance, Maintenance, Safety
CAA Director Graeme Harris

CAA Director Graeme Harris

Although the submission period on the implementation of SMS has ended and the summary of submissions is published, there were a number of crucial questions that had apparently not been addressed. We asked CAA Director Graeme Harris to discuss them.

First, Des Lines noted that there were only 48 written submissions and, of those, only 23 were from General Aviation maintenance organisations and operators.

From the Summary of Submissions, it is recorded that although feedback was also received verbally from many of the more than 300 attendees at the SMS Forums, no feedback whatsoever was counted in the responses on any particular subject.

With reference to the choices given to industry over SMS, page 5 of the SMS Consultation document – in a bold, framed paragraph – discloses that the CAA recommends Option 4: mandatory implementation of risk management systems across the spectrum of New Zealand aviation.

Des told Graeme Harris: “From past experience of CAA consultations – for example, that used for the increased fees, levies and charges introduced in 2012 – it is widely believed that responses that do not accord with the desired CAA result are invariably brushed aside.

“To declare the CAA’s policy ‘recommendation’ right at the beginning of a ‘consultation’ gives a very strong impression of the likely result. It is seen as a fait accompli. This naturally stifles robust debate within an already far-too-brief submission period because the interested parties believe that it is virtually impossible to influence any policy changes the CAA wishes to introduce”.

Des asked Graeme Harris:

1) Who and what is the SMS roll-out targeted at? It appears to only be those operators currently required to presently have QA systems – i.e. the current certificate holders such as small airlines (Part135) and maintenance organisations (Part 145).

GH: Existing organisational certificate holders.

2) If the CAA is indeed indicating that SMS systems are required universally, then there is the need to require all institutional operators (i.e. everyone except purely private owner/flyers) to operate under an SMS – and therefore everyone must be certificated. Is this the CAA intention?

GH: No – Refer response to Q1 above.

3) Much of the cost of writing and implementing a SMS arises from interactions with the CAA. With the hourly rate due to rise to $284/hr in 2014, and the CAA “clipping the ticket” with each required amendment to an SMS, this is likely to be a considerable financial burden for small operators who have little or no ability to recover their costs.

Is it the CAA’s intention to provide assistance to these small operators by developing model SMS systems that can then be easily tailored to match a specific operator’s organisation?

GH: Irrespective of whether mandatory or voluntary implementation is required, the CAA will certainly work with sector-representative bodies to assist uptake of SMS. At the moment, the form of that co-operation has not been defined. Note also that the cost impact will vary according to the implementation arrangements. The costs will vary according to whether mandatory or voluntary implementation is adopted and if the former, the implementation timeline eventually decided upon.

4) Would the CAA be prepared to accept the Australian model of not charging operators for audits, thus reducing the financial pressure and making the adoption of a SMS easier?

GH: The CAA does not have the option of not charging for its audits.

5) ICAO does not require implementation of a “risk management system” which the CAA is proposing, but requires a “safety management system”. It is our understanding that there are subtle and very important differences between the two systems.

Would you please define the CAA view by comparing and contrasting these two distinct systems?

GH: The CAA is proposing a risk-based approach to regulation. Part of that risk-based approach is the adoption of Safety Management Systems by organisational certificate holders. With a couple of exceptions, the form of SMS proposed is the same as that adopted by ICAO.

6) With regard to voluntary occurrence reporting, the data and information supplied to the CAA has no legal protections for disclosure other than the Privacy Act (where that information applies to individuals) or within the Official Information Act under certain circumstances.

What protection will be available to individuals and organisations to safeguard them from the Regulator pursuing prosecutions under the relevant sections S.43, S43A, and S44 of the Civil Aviation Act?

GH: Note our Regulatory Operating Model document, particularly page 4, section “Promoting a Reporting Culture”. In addition, note that the CAA is promoting the adoption of increased legal protection for both voluntary and mandatory reporting in its input to the current review of the Civil Aviation Act.

7) Smaller, uncertified, training organisations have always been outside the scope of a SMS and we don’t believe this proposal is workable unless the CAA wishes to stifle growth of recreational aviation in NZ. Interestingly, when Part 115 came out, the CAA claimed that it did not require SMS for small operators. The size of the operations dictates whether they have “true SMS” or not. Hence there is no requirement for businesses having three or fewer aircraft to have an “organisational management system under 115.77c”.

Is it now the CAA’s intention to require all training organisations, including microlight clubs, to adopt a SMS?

GH: No – Refer response to Q1& Q2 above

8) It is our contention that the auditors will also act as the advisers. This would seem to be at odds with the current CAA policy, where auditors do not advise.

It would seem logical that those using a matrix to score the effectiveness of an operator’s systems should also have the expertise to interpret what they observe, including the professionalism of individuals, and the knowledge to impart in order to improve or correct things.

This raises the question as to whether the CAA has sufficient expertise to conduct audits of operational risk management systems across the range of sectors of the industry. Indeed, Part 115 certification entry audits use co-opted intra-industry experts.

In our opinion, a more valuable method would be to use a co-opted expertise for auditing and advisory purposes as normal practice. This means that CAA can be at arm’s length from it and purely provide oversight. Approved industry bodies or individuals should conduct the audits (as is the case with the new rules on adventure tourism operators).

Skilled auditors from within each sector of aviation would have the flexibility to interpret whatever systems are in place according to a defined list of requirements. It is envisaged that sufficiently qualified/experienced individuals from each particular sector would apply for registration as auditors. This would help circumvent another tier of CAA bureaucracy and foster recommendations, standards, and advances in best practice from within the industry.

We are very concerned that the CAA risks spending considerable resources and incurring large costs on ‘re-inventing the wheel’ when there are already excellent auditable standards for the implementation of safety management systems in all industries outside of aviation, including those with high hazards.

Is it envisaged that an industry-based peer group, appropriately registered, carries out the audit process?

GH: As a general rule, no. Safety audit and certification activities are core business for a government safety regulator. That said, where we lack specific expertise we will contract it in and will in all cases work with sector-representative bodies to achieve desired safety outcomes.

9) If the preferred option of introducing a mandatory SMS is followed, will the CAA delay implementation until EASA publishes its mandatory requirements?

GH: No.

10) Does the CAA have sufficient “operationally experienced and trained” staff to perform SMS audits on an industry-wide basis? How many are there?

GH: CAA will be building this capability as part of our SMS Implementation Strategy – Point 6 Training and Education

11) The backbone elements of SMS – hazard identification and a culture of self-reporting safety occurrences – will always be difficult unless the CAA is recognised to have adopted, and to actively practice “Just Culture”. This requires the Director to exercise his discretionary powers. It has always been incumbent upon the Director to fully convince the aviation community that the Director will always follow a “Just Culture” approach.

While wording of certain sections of the Civil Aviation Act (S.43, S.43A, and S.44) remain unchanged, this attempt will always be viewed with some cynicism, particularly in light of particular recent prosecutions.

Before a mandatory SMS is introduced, will the CAA seek to alter the wording of these sections of the Civil Aviation Act during the current review process of the Act that is being undertaken?

GH: The Ministry of Transport is considering amendments to the Civil Aviation Act, and matters pertaining to “just culture”, safety reporting, and sections 43-44 of the Act are included.