SMS in Air Traffic Management

SMS in Air Traffic Management


Proactive safety management and implementation of safety management systems (SMS) were put on the agenda of international organisations, national authorities and air navigations service providers in the late 1990s due to the continuing traffic growth and the need to ensure improved safety levels in line with the strategic safety objective of ATM - the absolute number of accidents with ATM contribution should not increase, and where possible, decrease.

ESARR 3 “Use of Safety Management Systems by ATM Service Providers” provides the following rationale for the establishment of an SMS: “Safety management is that function of service provision, which ensures that all safety risks have been identified, assessed and satisfactorily mitigated. A formal and systematic approach to safety management will maximise safety benefits in a visible and traceable way.”

It is believed that SMS should lead to achievement of one of civil aviation’s key business goals: enhanced safety performance aiming at best practice and moving beyond mere compliance with regulatory requirements. According to International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) the SMS is a toolbox that contains the tools that an aviation service provider needs in order to be able to control the safety risks of the consequences of the hazards it must face during the delivery of the services for which the organisation is in business.


An SMS is defined as a systematic approach to managing safety, including the necessary organizational structures, accountabilities, policies and procedures. (ICAO)

A systematic and explicit approach defining the activities by which safety management is undertaken by an organisation in order to achieve acceptable or tolerable safety. (ESARR 3)

Regulatory Framework

The implementation of SMS in ATM industry was facilitated by changes to the regulatory frameworks.

According to ICAO Annex 11 - Air Traffic Services, “States shall require, as part of their safety programme, that an air traffic services provider implements a safety management system acceptable to the State that, as a minimum:

a) identifies safety hazards;

b) ensures that remedial action necessary to maintain an acceptable level of safety is implemented;

c) provides for continuous monitoring and regular assessment of the safety level achieved; and

d) aims to make continuous improvement to the overall level of safety.”

The EUROCONTROL ESARR 3 - Use of Safety Management Systems by ATM Service Providers extends the SMS scope to include airspace management and air traffic flow management, in addition to air traffic services.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) “ATO Safety Management System Manual" establishes that the SMS shall address all aspects of ATC and navigation services, including (but not limited to) airspace changes, air traffic procedures and standards, airport procedures and standards, new and modified equipment (hardware and software), and associated human interactions.

According to Regulation 1035/2011 - Common Requirements for the Provision of Air Navigation Services, “An air navigation service provider shall manage the safety of all its services. In doing so, it shall establish formal interfaces with all stakeholders which may influence directly the safety of its services.”

See Further Reading.

SMS Scope

Across the ATM industry, ANSPs are at different level of SMS development and implementation. Some service providers have very mature systems, which are fully integrated into the operations; others are still in the early stages of SMS implementation. This diversity can be attributed to the existing differences in national regulatory frameworks, (un)availability of resources at local level and considerable variation in style and content of the used implementation guidance material.

A typical SMS of an air navigation service provider comprises a system of organisational arrangements, processes, procedures and practices that includes the following components:


EUROCONTROL in cooperation with Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO) have developed an SMS Standard. The standard aims to facilitate the practical implementation of ICAO safety management requirements by ANSPs.

The SMS Standard consists of a ‘system enabler’ (Safety Culture), and a framework of four components - Safety PolicySafety AchievementSafety Assurance, and Safety Promotion. Within all of these areas, there are one or more elements. Figure 1 below depicts the interaction between these areas. Together, they are considered to constitute a mature and systematic safety framework.

    SMS Standard

SMS Maturity Measurement

In Europe, EUROCONTROL measures the maturity of ANSPs’ safety management systems using a dedicated survey methodology. The Safety Maturity Survey Framework establishes the extent of progress made by ANSPs with respect to the introduction of ATM safety management systems and how the SMS framework relates to safety in operations and engineering. The measurements are not a replica of an audit and are not based on detailed evidences. The maturity survey is based on self assessment which is verified during a telephone or face-to-face interview. The new methodology, applied from 2010 onwards, has strengthened the verification mechanism through a series of additional validation activities agreed by service providers.

The effectiveness of safety management as measured by a methodology based on the Safety Maturity Survey Framework will become the first safety key performance indicator for the European service providers in the context of the implementation of the Single European Sky II legislation.

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Further Reading



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