UND sets pace for aviation safety

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UND sets pace for aviation safety

Safety is more than a bunch of words on a yellow placard.

At the University Of North Dakota John D. Odegard School Of Aerospace Sciences (UND Aerospace) safety is a core principle of operation.

With an excellent safety track record and a demonstrable concern for the well-being of its students, staff and faculty — as well as the safe management of a large fleet of aircraft — UND is setting the pace for safety.

That's why UND Aerospace was asked by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to be part of a pilot program to develop a safety management system (SMS) for the school's "Part 141" FAA approved flight training program. "SMS is the formal application of best management practices to the business of aviation safety," said Frank Argenziano, assistant director for aviation safety. "We have always had a strong safety culture at UND Aerospace, but SMS provides more structure, a better system of checks and balances, and more input on safety concerns by students and staff."

The 12 member SMS working group "executive committee" comprises Argenziano; William Watson, assistant professor of aviation; Paul Snyder, assistant director, Extension Programs; and Gary Ullrich, associate professor of aviation.

SMS in the aviation industry is based on the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) requirement that each member state (country) require its air carriers to have an SMS program if they operate internationally.

"While we don't operate internationally, we do have many customers from other countries," said Paul Snyder. "Those customers are asking if we have an SMS program in place."

Although air carriers are required to have a SMS, it is still voluntary for most other aviation operations.

"The FAA is encouraging operators to embrace SMS as a matter of best safety practice, regardless of whether it becomes a requirement for all FAA certificated operators in the future," said Snyder.

"This is still a relatively new concept for aviation schools such as ours," said Gary Ullrich. "As a matter of fact, in June, UND Aerospace became the first Part 141 program to have a safety management system recognized by the FAA. This was a very significant milestone for us and the FAA. There are 4 levels of progression to be fully SMS compliant, and we hope to move from level 2 to level 3 this fall."

"SMS isn't a one-time operation," noted William Watson. "It requires continuous improvement of the organization's safety programs, as well as the participation of everyone in the organization."

To this end, the four core persons attended a 10 day SMS training program conducted by the Department of Transportation Safety Training Institute in Oklahoma City.

"With the formal training we received we will, in turn, start training our faculty, staff and students this fall," said Watson.

The formal structure that SMS provides

"SMS is comprised of four components or pillars," said Snyder. "Safety Policy, Safety Risk Management, Safety Assurance, and Safety Promotion and Culture.

"Safety Policy tells us what we do and how we should do it; Safety Risk Management provides the methods to identify risks to the organization, as well as the means of mitigating the risks to the lowest practical level. Safety Assessment allows us to audit our operation and determine 'are we really doing what we say we do.'"

"Safety Promotion and Culture insures that everyone takes an active role, and that they report unsafe conditions or acts without fear of reprisal. This is the key to a successful SMS," Watson added.

It's also about enhancing student safety, already a vital principle in UND's aviation education program.

"An SMS will help students on every single flight," Snyder said. "What SMS is about is continuous improvement. Basically, that means taking as much chance out of the operational environment as you can."

"The interest in SMS doesn't stop there. We also received a grant from the FAA to develop an SMS program designed to meet the specific needs of Part 141 flight programs," said Ullrich. "Developing an SMS, especially for a smaller school without a lot of human resources, can be a very daunting experience. Even for us, we have over three years invested in this.

"Learning from our experience, we are developing an easy to use SMS format that any school, regardless of size, could look at and say 'SMS make sense, and we can do it,'" Gary continued.

"SMS is a journey," said Argenziano. "When we first started I was skeptical whether the benefits justified the effort we had to invest. Now I look around and see our students and staff applying the principal of SMS every day. That means a safer training environment for our students and instructors, and a safer work environment for our line and maintenance staff. What more could you ask for?"

Juan Miguel Pedraza University & Public Affairs writer

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