20130117 - Safety management systems in aviation maintenance - 1997

[Data] [<Normal page] [PEREZGONZALEZ Jose D et al [eds] (2012). Safety management systems in aviation maintenance. Knowledge (ISSN 2324-1624), 2013, pages 8-10.] [DOI]


McDonald et al (19971) analyzed how four aircraft maintenance organizations (AMOs)2 managed safety, with particular emphasis on current safety management systems and organizational culture.

A qualitative assessment of the properties of the safety management system (SMS) of the four AMOs is tabulated in illustration 1. It shows that the four organizations had distinctive safety management styles as well as different safety cultures.

Organization C appeared as the AMO with the best safety management system, better climate and most favorable disciplinary actions, although it also had a relatively high level of violations of task procedures. Organization A and organization B were somewhere in the middle in regards to the quality of their SMS and cultures. Finally, organization D was the AMO with the worst safety management system, with safety climate and attitudes slightly lower than the rest, and with a poor disciplinary culture.

Illustration 1: Elements of safety management across four aircraft maintenance organizations
SMS elements A B C D
Safety policy Good Basic Strong Ineffective
Safety standards Good Basic Strong Basic
Planning & documentation Good Improving Strong Ineffective
Management training Partly effective Inconsistent Effective Ineffective
Auditing Statutory Basic Strong Statutory
Reporting Backlogged Starting Starting Poor
Incident investigation Good Ineffective Strong Absent
Feedback Good Ineffective Strong Poor
Change Good Ineffective Strong Absent
Climate & attitudes A B C D
Safety climate Slightly positive Negative Positive Slightly negative
Safety attitudes Better Better Better Good
Disciplinary actions3 A B C D
Impartial investigation 53% 35% 62% 28%
Incident discussed 40% 23% 51% 33%
Verbal reprimand 10% 10% 15% 7%
None 3% 4% 0% 3%
Disciplinary hearing 45% 23% 35% 37%
Suspension of license 15% 51% 8% 18%
Suspension of job 19% 9% 3% 13%
Task procedures A B C D
Reported violations 30% 36% 37% 47%

Although little can be generalized from this particular research, the results do describe a situation were safety management and safety culture did not appear standardized among organizations doing similar jobs and having similar responsibilities for aviation safety. That is, safety management, at least at the time of the research, appeared quite variable across organizations. On the other hand, safety management appeared as quite consistent within each organization, further suggesting that the quality of both the management system and the safety culture was idiosyncratic to each organization and permeated all levels in that organization.


Research approach

Exploratory study.


The research was done in four aircraft maintenance organizations2, including content analysis of documentation and sampling different groups of people within each organization.

Materials and analysis

Materials included content analysis of relevant documentation, semi-structured interviews with management personnel, and several surveys filled in by different groups of personnel. The researchers used a variety of qualitative and quantitative analytical tools to support a final qualitative assessment of the safety management of the four AMOs.

1. McDONALD Nicholas, Siobhan CORRIGAN, Colin DALY & Sam CROMIE (1997). Safety management systems and safety culture in aircraft maintenance organisations. Safety Science (ISSN 0925-7535), 2000, volume 34, pages 151-176.
+++ Notes +++
2. Nowadays referred to as MROs, meaning either 'maintenance and repair organizations', or 'maintenance, repair and overhaul organizations'.
3. Percentages of respondents who expected each particular disciplinary action by the organization as consequence of an incident or accident. Percentages are mostly estimated from eye-balling a chart, as only a few of those were reported in the article.

Want to know more?

FAA - Safety Management System
This FAA website provides more information about safety management systems in aviation.
Wiki of Science - Safety management systems in aviation maintenance (descriptive statistics)
This Wiki of Science page provides in-depth descriptive analyses of above information, and a ranking of the overall quality of each organization's management system.


  • Jose D PEREZGONZALEZ (2012). Massey University, Turitea Campus, Private Bag 11-222, Palmerston North 4442, New Zealand. (JDPerezgonzalezJDPerezgonzalez).
  • nuuckie (2012) (nuuckienuuckie).


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