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Why small helicopter operators need a Safety Management System

As a small helicopter operator, safety should be your top priority. Operating a helicopter involves a high level of risk, and even a small error can have disastrous consequences. This is why every small helicopter company should be safely compliant and implement a safety management system (SMS).

An SMS is a systematic approach to managing safety that includes policies, procedures, and practices for identifying, assessing, and controlling safety risks. It is a proactive approach that helps organizations to identify potential safety hazards before they turn into accidents. SMS has become increasingly important in the aviation industry in recent years, and for good reason. The benefits of implementing an SMS are numerous, and in this blog post, we will discuss some of them.



Compliance with regulatory requirements


One of the primary reasons for implementing an SMS is regulatory compliance. Many aviation authorities now require SMS as a part of their safety regulations. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States requires SMS for all Part 135 operators. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in penalties, fines, or even the revocation of your operating certificate.


Improved safety culture


Implementing an SMS can help create a safety culture within your organization. This means that safety becomes a core value and is ingrained in every aspect of your operations. A strong safety culture ensures that everyone in the organization is committed to safety, and safety is always at the forefront of decision-making processes. This can lead to improved safety outcomes and fewer accidents.


Reduced risks


SMS is a risk-based approach to safety management. It helps identify potential safety hazards and assess their risks. By identifying and mitigating risks, SMS can help reduce the likelihood of accidents. This not only improves safety but also reduces the risk of financial losses associated with accidents, such as damage to aircraft, lawsuits, or lost revenue due to downtime.


Improved operational efficiency


Implementing an SMS can also improve operational efficiency. By identifying and mitigating risks, you can streamline your operations and reduce the likelihood of unplanned downtime. This can lead to increased productivity, reduced costs, and improved customer satisfaction.


Enhanced reputation


A strong safety record can enhance your company's reputation. Customers are more likely to choose a company with a good safety record, and it can also attract new customers. In addition, a good safety record can help attract and retain talented employees, who are more likely to want to work for a company that prioritizes safety.

How can your operation implement SMS ?

Implementing an SMS can seem like a daunting task, especially for small helicopter operators with limited resources. However, there are several ways in which you can start implementing an SMS within your organization.

Develop a Safety Policy


The first step in implementing an SMS is to develop a safety policy that outlines your commitment to safety. This policy should be communicated to all employees, and everyone should understand their role in promoting safety within the organization. Your safety policy should also include your safety objectives, the processes for managing safety, and the resources allocated for safety.



Identify Safety Hazards

The next step is to identify potential safety hazards within your operations. This can be done through risk assessments, safety audits, and incident reporting. By identifying potential hazards, you can prioritize the risks and develop strategies to mitigate them. It's essential to involve all employees in the hazard identification process, as they are often the ones with the most knowledge about the day-to-day operations.


Develop a Safety Management Plan

Based on the hazards identified, you can develop a safety management plan that outlines the strategies and procedures to mitigate those risks. This plan should include risk mitigation strategies, incident reporting procedures, training requirements, and emergency response procedures. The plan should be reviewed regularly and updated as necessary to ensure its effectiveness.


Provide Training

Training is a critical component of an effective SMS. All employees should receive initial and ongoing training on safety policies and procedures, hazard identification, and risk mitigation strategies. Training should be tailored to each employee's role within the organization and should be reviewed regularly to ensure that employees remain competent in their roles.


Monitor and Evaluate

An SMS should be continuously monitored and evaluated to ensure its effectiveness. This can be done through safety audits, incident investigations, and performance monitoring. Regular safety meetings can also be used to review safety performance and identify areas for improvement. By monitoring and evaluating your SMS, you can identify gaps and make adjustments to improve safety performance continually.



Implementing a Safety Management System (SMS) has helped improve the safety performance of helicopter companies.


Here are a few examples, along with statistics and references:

CHC Helicopter Corporation CHC Helicopter Corporation is a global helicopter operator that provides transportation services to the oil and gas industry. In 2006, CHC implemented an SMS, which included a program to report and analyze incidents and accidents. Since implementing the SMS, CHC has seen a significant improvement in safety performance. In 2012, the company reported a 50% reduction in their Lost Time Incident Frequency (LTIF) rate, which is a common safety performance metric in the aviation industry. Additionally, CHC reported a 35% reduction in their Total Recordable Injury Frequency (TRIF) rate in the same year.


CHC Helicopter Corporation. (2012). CHC 2012 sustainability report. Retrieved from https://www.chcheli.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/CHC_Sustainability_Report_2012.pdf



Bristow Group Bristow Group is a global helicopter operator that provides transportation services to the oil and gas industry, search and rescue services, and other aviation services. Bristow Group implemented an SMS in 2004, and since then, the company has seen a significant improvement in safety performance. In 2018, Bristow Group reported a 64% reduction in their Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR) compared to their baseline year of 2003. Additionally, Bristow Group reported a 53% reduction in their Lost Time Incident Rate (LTIR) in the same year.

Bristow Group. (2018). 2018 Sustainability Report. Retrieved from https://www.bristowgroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/BRISTOW_2018-Sustainability-Report_Digital-File.pdf



Era Group Inc. Era Group Inc. is a helicopter operator that provides transportation services to the offshore oil and gas industry, search and rescue services, and other aviation services. Era Group implemented an SMS in 2014, which included a program to report and analyze incidents and accidents. Since implementing the SMS, Era Group has seen a significant improvement in safety performance. In 2019, the company reported a 34% reduction in their Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR) compared to their baseline year of 2013. Additionally, Era Group reported a 57% reduction in their Lost Time Incident Rate (LTIR) in the same year.

Era Group Inc. (2020). 2020 Sustainability Report. Retrieved from https://sustainability.eragroupinc.com/2020sustainabilityreport/home.html



To conclude, every small helicopter company should prioritize safety and implement an SMS. It is not just a regulatory requirement but a necessary step to ensure the safety of employees, passengers, and the general public. Implementing an SMS provides numerous benefits, including improved safety, improved operational efficiency, and enhanced reputation. By implementing an SMS and using incident reporting and analysis programs, small helicopter companies can proactively identify and mitigate risks, leading to fewer accidents and injuries.


As seen from the statistics and examples of helicopter companies such as CHC Helicopter Corporation, Bristow Group, and Era Group Inc., implementing an SMS can lead to significant improvements in safety performance, including reductions in incident rates and improved safety metrics.


To implement an SMS, small helicopter companies can take several steps, including developing a safety policy, identifying safety hazards, developing a safety management plan, providing training, and monitoring and evaluating safety performance.


Creating a culture of safety within the organization is crucial, and it starts with a commitment from the top. Don't wait until an accident occurs to prioritize safety. Start implementing an SMS today and make safety a core value in your organization. The benefits of implementing an SMS are well worth the effort and commitment. By doing so, small helicopter companies can create a safer work environment, improve operational efficiency, reduce costs associated with accidents and incidents, and enhance their reputation.


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