The Impact of Safety Management Systems on Safety Performance: Commercial Aviation Operations

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Lohmann, Gui

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Dekker, Sidney

Bates, Paul

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Aviation is a complex and safety-critical industry. Although the aviation system is one that cannot be completely free of hazards and associated risks, the final goal is always the elimination of aircraft accidents and/or serious incidents. Because there are no guarantees that human activities or human-built systems will be completely free from operational errors and their consequences, safety has to be a dynamic characteristic of the aviation system where risks to safety need to be constantly mitigated. The acceptabilit y of safety performance is frequently predisposed by domestic as well as international norms and culture. Provided safety risks are kept under an appropriate level, the aviation system can be expected to maintain the appropriate balance between production and protection. Previous research has shown that organisations with a certified safety management system (SMS) had significantly lower accident rates (Thomas, 2012). However, there was no agreement about which SMS components individually contributed most to safety performance, as well as a general lack of consistency in terms of which SMS elements most affected safety performance. Therefore, this study seeks to determine the impact of SMSs on safety performance for commercial aviation operations using two case studies. The first case study looks at SMSs within the general aviation/charter operation sector while the second case study reviews SMSs for the airline sector of the industry. This study starts with a review of the evolution of aviation safety, and of the approaches taken to implement, improve and enhance safet y in safety-critical industries such as aviation, nuclear, marine, rail and petrochemical. Variations were identified between the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) SMS model and the models adopted by some ICAO member states. The experience of implementing an SMS in Australia for regular public transport or airline-type operations was reviewed by this study together with a review of the independent Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) post-SMS implementation audit to seek out lessons learnt and recommendations for continuous improvements.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Natural Sciences

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The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.

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Aviation safety

Commercial aviation safety

Aircraft accidents

Safety management systems (SMS)

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