Safe Flights Start with a Comprehensive Safety Management System


In the aviation industry, safety is a priority. But it’s also a fundamental way of life, particularly in high-risk sectors like air medical services. Air Methods relies on its Safety Management System (SMS) program to establish a comprehensive systematic approach to safety, serving as the cornerstone of our company. It’s the backbone of our operations, ensuring that every flight is as safe as possible for patients and flight crew. With an unparalleled personal and financial commitment to our SMS, Air Methods has set the benchmark in air safety management.  

What is a Safety Management System Program?  
A Safety Management System program is precisely what it sounds like — a method for proactively mitigating risk to operations. It involves structures, procedures, practices, and policies to handle safety risks. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) describes it as a “formal, top-down, organization-wide approach,” and having one ensures “the effectiveness of safety risk controls.”  

Air Methods’ SMS program has several components, which include:  

  • A Safety Management System Manual  
  • Safety risk assessment and reporting tools 
  • A Flight Operational Quality Assurance (FOQA) program 
  • Safety promotion campaigns: “Safety Moment” of the Month 

Until recently, the FAA did not require Part 135 operators (providing on-demand services like air ambulances) to have a safety program. Air Methods voluntarily implemented a safety management system to promote proactive safety practices. Following a federal ruling, most Part 135 operations will now adhere to the Department of Transportation and the FAA’s safety management system requirements, though not all. Operators impacted by the new rule are expected to comply by around May 2026, pending a final decision. 

What the FAA’s New Requirement Means 
It is crucial that the FAA requires that most Part 135 operators follow safety procedures and have a formal Safety Management System program. 

“Under the current voluntary program, it means that Air Methods has put into practice all relevant procedures required under the federal mandate,” says Caleb Luck, Safety Department. “To maintain acceptance, along with the active maintenance of our program and as part of the new standard, we must maintain a state of continuous improvement to our program.”  

Part 135 operators rely on this program significantly. It allows us to maintain uniform standards while flexibly adapting to individual operational contexts. “This program also helps us navigate risks within our organization and foster collaboration using a shared approach,” explains Caleb.  

The Key Components of an Effective Safety Management System  
To ensure a safe and secure working environment, organizations today need to have a robust SMS in place. An effective SMS program encompasses several key components that promote safety and minimize workplace risk.  

These components include: 

Safety Policy: Establishes senior management’s commitment to safety and defines methods and processes that will meet safety goals. 

Safety Risk Management: Assessing acceptable risks helps determine the necessity and effectiveness of implementing new or updated risk management measures. 

Safety Assurance: Assesses the ongoing efficiency of applied risk control tactics and aids in pinpointing fresh hazards.  

Safety Promotion: Training, communication, and other efforts are essential for fostering a culture of safety across all levels of the workforce. 

Specific Benefits of SMS-Certified Operations for Partners and Patients 
Our ongoing efforts to enhance our SMS program ensure the highest level of safety for all. We routinely monitor the program’s effectiveness and make sure it retains high standards for our employees, partners, and patients. This commitment is evident in our evolving platform, where employees can easily report concerns with the assurance that they will receive prompt action. 

For Example, multiple reports were submitted by flight crews regarding the deficiency or absence of quality hazardous terrain and flight awareness systems across various aircraft within the fleet. These systems are essential for providing flight crews with information about nearby terrain and other aircraft. The safety management and aviation teams concluded that further discussion on this matter was necessary. As a result, immediate updates were implemented for aircraft with a critical need for these systems, accompanied by a phased-out plan to ensure the installation of new systems in other specified aircraft over time. 

The Role of the SMS Program Within Air Methods 
The SMS program at Air Methods sets the stage for fostering a strong safety culture within the organization by setting clear expectations for all employees and outlining the two fundamental principles. 

These are:  

  1. Accountable Executive (AE) Involvement — The CEO is the AE for Air Methods, ensuring adherence and continuous improvement of the Safety Management System. 
  1. Just Culture — The principle establishes a shared accountability system that encourages employees to report hazards and self-deficiencies without fear of retribution or undue discipline. This enables the organization to proactively identify and address potential safety issues. By prioritizing safety and emphasizing accountability at every level of the organization, Air Methods’ SMS program sets the tone for a robust safety culture that keeps employees, customers, and communities safe. 

Upcoming Enhancements 
As we continue to evolve our safety culture, we are implementing new updates to our SMS program. In early June, we will see the release of a new tool for safety reporting that includes a Corrective/Preventative Action Plan (CAPA) tool. These tools will enable us to proactively identify hazards and unmanaged risk, respond more effectively, and ultimately decrease the risk of incidents and accidents from occurring.  

We are confident that our SMS program will continue to evolve and adapt to meet the industry’s changing requirements. We will continue to work closely with the FAA to ensure we stay ahead of the curve and remain at the forefront of safety in the aviation industry. With the recent mandate for Part 135 operators, we have been working diligently to stay ahead of the changes that will impact the SMS landscape. 

Learn more about safety practices at Air Methods.