Corporate management’s role in aviation safety

Aviation safety has moved from an engineering challenge to a management one over the years. It is an evolution that has brought the aviation industry to a point where the accident rate is so low that it is no longer an accurate indicator for safety trends. With human factors and management culture now at the fore, aviation safety programmes must shift from a safety management system to a corporate safety system.

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Pillars of safety management

After the ICAO mandated the adoption of its Safety Management Systems (SMS) requirements in 2008, the global aviation industry was surprisingly quick to embrace the concept, even though it meant complex organisational changes. Certainly, much of the quality assurance and safety programme materials already in place, especially for air operators, was essentially unchanged. However, for SMS to work best, it requires a much more active role for management.

As aviation safety management has moved beyond the early years of accident investigation and designs and regulations that help avoid them to the ultra-safe engineering levels of today (see also our Safety Risk Review 2017), the risks have shifted from mainly technological to mostly cultural. Safety management is no longer the domain of the operational department; it is now fully the responsibility of the entire organisation to provide accountability for safety.

Building the corporate safety system

The SMS as set out by ICAO in Annex 19 now forms the basis for aviation safety within the operational organisation. It is built around four pillars of safety management: safety policy, risk management, safety assurance and safety promotion. As these are largely aspects of management rather than engineering, they also mandate a broader corporate application and a proactive attitude toward safety management.

Where safety manuals used to reside solely on the shelves of the operational departments, a corporate safety system would provide for safety and risk management policies applicable to the organisational departments as well. To give a simple yet highly illustrative example, Operations cannot meet its safety mandate if Purchasing unwittingly buys inferior or unsafe materials based on price alone.

Proactive safety as corporate objective

Expanding the accountability for aviation safety beyond the operational departments and across the entire organisation can only be successful if it has the full sponsorship of upper management. Safety must be viewed – and promoted – as a company-wide, corporate objective. Without doubt, the best way to achieve this is through a management culture that not only proactively emphasises safety management but provides a just culture for reporting errors and failures without fear of retribution as well.

Our white paper, SMS 2.0 – Thoughts on Moving from a Safety Management System to a Corporate Safety System, explains the model for a Corporate Safety System. In it, we take you through the four pillars of SMS and explain the steps necessary for each one to turn your organisation from reactive to proactive aviation safety management.

For more on this topic, click here to download the whitepaper:

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About To70. To70 is one of the world’s leading aviation consultancies, founded in the Netherlands with offices in Europe, Australia, Asia, and Latin America. To70 believes that society’s growing demand for transport and mobility can be met in a safe, efficient, environmentally friendly and economically viable manner. To achieve this, policy and business decisions have to be based on objective information. With our diverse team of specialists and generalists to70 provides pragmatic solutions and expert advice, based on high-quality data-driven analyses. For more information, please refer to


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