Safety Management System (SMS) in Ghana’s Aviation sector – A Candid Perspective.
The recent concerns of air traffic controllers in Ghana over lapses in airspace management safety in the Flight Information Region (FIR) under the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), raises the issue of the seemingly lack of a proactive, performance based safety management and oversight by GCAA. The “flight scare” of Deputy Minister of Energy John Jinapor on a flight to Kumasi (Daily Guide, 23 Jan 2014) and air return to Accra, coupled with previous ‘sensational’ aviation related occurrences involving some of our local aviation operators, could be signs of some inherent system wide safety management problems among our aviation service providers and a dent on the much touted ‘excellent’ safety oversight of the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA).
It is no secret that some of the local aviation service providers are grappling with the issue of aircraft lease, poor contractual and ineffective business plans, high cost maintenance on aged fuel inefficient aircraft, low passenger/cargo volumes, inherent difficulties in expanding existing routes and high fuel prices. They are also faced with regulatory requirements to maintain very stringent and safe operations while struggling to remain in business. Juggling all these dynamic elements can be the perfect recipe for incidents and accidents.
Aviation service providers like the Ghana Airports Company Limited are struggling with inadequate revenue generation and mobilization to modernize airport/aerodrome infrastructure nationwide. These infrastructures include secure and ergonomically designed airport terminals, well marked and lighted runways, technologically advanced terrestrial and satellite based navigational facilities, aircraft manoeuvring area, crash rescue fire service, emergency response/ coordination. The state of regional airports like Kumasi and Sunyani leaves much to be desired. A continuous delay in the provision and modernization of these critical aviation infrastructures can be primers for safety occurrences.
The Ghana Meteorological Agency (GMA), which is an important functional entity to provide critical real time and forecast weather information to pilots and air traffic service providers also battle with lack of well remunerated and resourced human capacity to fill vacancies at some of the regional airports in Ghana. The GMA also struggle with obsolete weather forecasting equipment and critically require technologically advanced weather facilities country wide. Another issue is the fact that the GCAA is both a player in providing Air Traffic Services/Airspace Management while acting as a regulator, which creates a conflict of interest scenario. How can GCAA be a good and objective evaluator of its own performance as a service provider? These are some of the system wide latent conditions that can negatively impact aviation safety management in Ghana.
Ghana by far and large has quite an enviable aviation safety record in the African aviation sub-sector, and has not had any fatal aviation related accident, since the tragic run way overrun at the Kotoka International Airport by a Nigerian registered Allied Air Boeing 727 cargo aircraft in June 2012, which resulted in fatalities to some passengers on a minivan on the El-wak Road. The mishap aircraft, unable to stop within the landing distance available on the runway, during a rainy approach to land, broke through the airport perimeter wall and crossed the 37-Burma camp Road crushing the minivan and its occupant, before coming to a stop, short of the Elwak Stadium. That accident highlighted the need for a more proactive approach towards the management of aviation safety by operators that ply our airspace
Causes of Aviation Accident
Accidents are not just chance occurrence, but are the ultimate culmination of a chain of undesirable safety events linked and aligned together. They occur when system safety barriers put in place to ensure control are breached. Aviation accidents involve successive breaches of multiple system defences. These breaches can be triggered by a number of enabling factors such as equipment failures or operational errors (Reasons Cheese Model).
There are two very important components of an accident namely Active failures and Latent conditions. Active failures are actions or inactions, including errors and violations, which have an immediate adverse effect. They are generally viewed, with the benefit of hindsight, as unsafe acts. Active failures are generally associated with front-line operational personnel (pilots, air traffic controllers, aircraft mechanical engineers, etc.) and may result in a harmful outcome. Latent conditions in the system may include those created by a lack of safety culture; poor equipment or procedural design; conflicting organizational goals; defective organizational systems or management decisions (ICAO SMM, 2013). When a service provider decides to cut back on training due to economic constrains, but also push employees to work strenuous shifts, with inadequate supervision, while requiring on time performance to meet operational goals, then the conditions are created for errors and violations to take place, leading to safety occurrences.
Cost of aviation related occurrences on the operations of aviation service provider like an airline.
A critical assessment of the direct and indirect costs of an incidence/ accident shows that the consequences are unlikely to be appreciated and usually the worse scenarios are the indirect costs as they are more difficult to assess. These are often not covered or fully compensated by the service provider’s insurance (ICAO, 2009). This includes items like:
a. Loss of business and reputation.
b. Legal fees and damage claims.
c. Medical costs not covered by workers’ compensation.
d. Cost of lost use of equipments (loss of income).
e. Time list by injured persons and cost of replacement workers.
f. Increased insurance premiums.
g. Aircraft recovery and clean-up.
h. Fines and Citations.
System Wide Approach to Aviation Safety Management (Safety Management System)
The perspective underlying the pro active approach to safety and preventing such aviation accidents is to identify and mitigate these latent conditions on a system-wide basis. This reduces adhoc and knee-jerk efforts to minimize active failures by reactive and prescriptive based oversight (over regulation and punitive actions). This is when Safety Management System (SMS) becomes paramount in aviation organizations. SMS comprises of an organization-wide safety policy; formal methods for identifying hazards, controlling, and continually assessing risk and safety performance; and promotion of a safety culture. SMS stresses not only compliance with technical standards but increased emphasis on the overall safety performance of the organization.
Aviation Safety Framework in Ghana
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) of which Ghana is a contracting state, and signatory to it’s conventions, has stipulated in it’s Standards and Recommended practices (SARP) that each contracting State shall establish a Safety Management System (SMS), geared towards the management of safety in order to achieve an acceptable level of safety performance in civil aviation (ICAO SARPs Annex 19, 2013). SMS requires a continuous process of implementation and review. In this regard, it is imperative for Ghana, through the Ministry of Transport and Ghana Civil Aviation Authority to put more effort and resources into a pro-active state aviation safety program comprising of the following elements:
1. An effective aviation safety policy and objectives, which should consist of safety legislative framework, safety responsibilities and accountabilities, accident and incident investigation and an enforcement policy.
2. Aviation safety risk management policy outlining safety requirements for the aviation service provider’s SMS and agreement on the service provider’s safety performance.
3. Aviation safety assurance program consisting of safety oversight, safety data collection, analysis and exchange and safety-data-driven targeting of oversight of areas of greater concern or need.
4. Aviation safety promotion program that will encompass both internal and external training of aviation personnel on SMS, communication and dissemination of safety information,
Generally any state safety program like SMS in Ghana, should be geared towards service providers like air transport operators ( Airlines,Charter,Air taxi) plying the airspace in Ghana, Ghana Airports Company Limited, Ghana Meteorological Agency, National Emergency and Disaster Management Agency, Air Traffic/Space Management, Ghana Air force ( Rescue Coordination and Planning),Approved Training Organizations like CTK and Mish Aviation, Approved Maintenance Organizations and Approved Type Design/Assembling Organizations like WAASP.
Safety Investigations and Database Analysis
The establishment and maintenance of a safety database to facilitate the effective analysis of information on actual or potential safety deficiencies is very important. The information and data obtained, including that from its incident reporting systems, and to determine any actions required for the enhancement of safety is very crucial to the success of any SMS program.
Ghana needs to formally have an independent Aviation Safety Investigation board, that will lead investigations of all aviation related accidents and incidents and be a repository of safety occurrence database.
The Aviation Safety Investigation Board will also spearhead research and trend analysis of occurrences that can potentially prevent accidents. In an era of flight data management programs and flight operational data mining, analysed safety critical information can help aviation service providers take pro active steps to correct safety risk areas of their operations.
Benefits of SMS to Aviation Service Providers in Ghana
SMS is about decision making and business processes that position safety as a key part of an aviation service provider’s doctrine, just like any other part of running a business. SMS is about examining operations and the environment and determining what hazards are present and deciding what you are going to do about them. SMS is a core management system for running an organization that puts safety on the same level as profit, margin, and reliability.
Shifting an aviation service provider’s mindset from reactive to proactive safety requires not only periodic safety audit programs, but also a full endorsement from upper management to establish a program with adequate resources and personnel committed to focusing on the humans and their work processes (Transport Canada, 2008). A major benefit of effective safety interventions is avoiding costs associated with safety incidents which otherwise may have happened without such action.
SMS is inherently scalable and the costs of implementation depend on the size of the aviation service provider. Aviation service providers may have existing quality management systems or other voluntary programs, which may lower the estimated compliance costs and these components would also help aviation service providers effectively integrate formal risk control procedures into normal operational practices thus improving safety.
SMS creates benefits by preventing major accidents that threaten an aviation service provider’s market value (The fatal Ghana Airlink accident in June 2000,marked the end of operation for such a viable service provider). Even before the cascade of indirect costs resulting from a large-scale accident or incident (loss of available seats, loss of personnel, work time loss among personnel, morale, reputation, etc), catastrophic incidents and accidents may produce large direct costs, such as a “hull loss,” (destruction of the airframe and its component parts), loss of life or injuries, or other physical damage to facilities and property on the ground (Allied Air Cargo Accident in 2012).
Aviation service provider’s who have integrated SMS into their business models benefits from them financially as well. Some of the tangible benefits are as follows:
a. Stability, safety and customer support – customers are aware some operations are safer than others.
b. Possible reduction in insurance premiums through demonstration of control of safety risks.
c. Good work/life balance practices - adjustment of rosters to avoid most tiring shift/sector will give safety benefits, and can also improve employee/student morale, potentially lowering employee turnover and reducing training costs.
d. A proactive approach to safety can be demonstrated with documented evidence in the event of an incident or accident.
Through a good investment and successfully implemented SMS, aviation service providers will have better compliance with regulations and other mandatory operational requirements. This will in turn minimize the adverse consequences of any safety occurrences. SMS will allow aviation employees to identify potential hazards that may jeopardize their health and safety. SMS will have positive impacts on personnel by creating trusts, increased morale which leads to better performance. An additional benefit of SMS is the attraction of more passengers, customers and contracts which would reap potential financial benefits.
Essentially, any activity of aviation service providers that “touches safety” should be part of the accounting at the organizational level (Flight Safety Foundation, 2011). Senior management of aviation service providers and GCAA should have a reasonably accurate prediction of the corporate-level bottom line with regards to safety initiatives. Value-chain management has become a business management method highly relevant to aviation safety. As aviation operations and service provision becomes more technologically sophisticated and scientific, it is the hope that aviation operators and the GCAA would face these challenges squarely and ensure the highest form of safety in our aviation sector.
Ghana is touted to be the gateway to West Africa and the destination for both leisure and business travel. The aviation safety efforts, should not hinge on mere rhetoric, but should be backed by tangible actions and a prudent safety management plan. Safety Management System has become an intrinsic part of aviation service provision globally.
Odadie Kwasi Okatakyie Adjekum
Aviation Safety Consultant
Sources: Daily Guide (2014), Professor James Reason (1997), ICAO SARPs Annex 19, (2013), ICAO SARPS Annex 13, Flightsafety Foundation (2011), Transport Canada (2008).