Aviation Risk Management

Airports · 6 min read · Nov 29, 2021
Aviation risk management

All operations requiring the interaction between humans and machinery involve certain risks, and aviation operations are not an exception.

Unfortunately, eradicating risks completely is not possible. Moreover, some measures for mitigating risk may be economically impractical, so the players in the industry must accept the possible residual risk while doing all they can to take it to the minimum. And here is where aviation risk management becomes relevant.

So, let’s get into the details of what aviation risk management is and how it helps to achieve aviation safety.

What is risk management in aviation?

The concept of risk management is described by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as “the identification, analysis, and elimination (and/or mitigation to an acceptable or tolerable level) of those hazards, as well as the subsequent risks, that threaten the viability of an organization.”

In general, we could say that risk management in aviation is the approach and the actions that must be applied in a structured and systematic way to achieve effective and reasonable mitigation of the risks identified and assessed.

To achieve all these, ICAO provides a framework with the required components for effective risk management. Here are ICAO provisions:

  • Safety Policy and Objectives
  • Safety Risk Management
  • Safety Assurance
  • Safety Promotion

These ICAO provisions are also supported by the European Regulation 1035/2011 – Common Requirements for the Provision of Air Navigation Services and EUROCONTROL ESARR 3 identify risk assessment and mitigation as an essential component of the Safety Achievement domain of the SMS.

A visualisation of risk management: a hand preventing further collapse in a line of dominoes.

Safety risk management

Risk management is required to ensure reasonable aviation safety. Therefore the concept of safety risk management (SRM) is defined by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as “a formal process within the Safety Management System composed of describing the system, identifying the hazards, assessing the risk, analyzing the risk, and controlling the risk. The SRM process is embedded in the processes used to provide the product/service; it is not a separate/distinct process.”

With this definition, we could say that risk management and safety management are linked, and they depend on the safety management systems to be successful.

Risk management process

Risk management is not a linear or top-down process. It is considered a cyclical process where every stage depends on the previous one. Moreover, the risk management process involves the entire company, it is not a departmental kind of thing.

To be successful, the risk management process requires everyone to understand the cyclical nature, and that effective risk management needs everyone to be aware and take responsibility for the part they play in the process.

This said, let’s take a look at the different stages of the risk management process.


It is true that hazard identification seems to be the logical first stage for the process. However, it all begins with awareness. You need to be aware of your surroundings and the unique features of your work environment so you can identify any potential hazard or the likelihood of risk.

Of course, this kind of awareness does not happen overnight. Some ways to reach the level required are:

  • Previous experience in the industry.
  • Previous experience in a similar working environment.
  • Focused training for the area of work.
  • Promotion of safety best practices from risk management department and other top managers.
  • Trends detected by safety management systems regarding the combination of operations and specific conditions.
  • Specific training on hazard identification in aviation activities.

This list provides different ways for employees to reach the desired level of risk awareness. With enough experience, employees will be able to identify recurring safety issues in a timely manner.

Also, some hazards and risks may be hidden for the employees making hazard identification difficult, but these hazards and risks can be revealed with the right safety promotion and the analysis provided by the managers and the system.

In short, the objective of this stage is not to identify hazards as they occur but to predict potential risks with early signals or previous hazards and risks that may be creating a trend.

Identifying and reporting to risk management

Closely related to the previous stage, this part of the process deals with probably the most critical aspect of risk management, the ability to identify risks. But also, hazard identification would mean nothing if those hazards are not reported. Reporting identified hazards properly will have a direct impact on the aviation SMS effectiveness.

The process should start with employees identifying safety hazards, then reporting them to the risk management department where the information is formally entered into an aviation SMS data management platform.

Using the right tools the data is processed in several ways. For example:

  • It can be stored and retrieved as necessary.
  • It can be analyzed to have a better understanding.
  • Risk assessment can be performed.
  • It can be processed whenever the risk is not as low as reasonably practical (ALARP).
  • It can be used for continuous monitoring in case of recurrence or to identify potential side effects from the risk controls previously set.
  • It can be aggregated into charts and reports to assist decision-making processes.
  • It can be sent to the civil aviation authority (CAA) for monitoring and possible treatment of the systems.
  • It can be issued for the public to benefit the whole aviation community.

Nowadays, data is managed in either spreadsheets or specially designed databases according to CAA SMS regulatory requirements.

The most current SMS databases are the preferred technology for managing SMS data. However, this technology is not always accessible to very small companies for reasons like:

  • Not knowing the size and scope of the requirements for SMS documentation.
  • Not having enough SMS budget.
  • No support from top management in bottom-up implementations.
  • Having the wrong view of safety implementation.

Risk assessment and risk exposure analysis

Risk assessment and risk exposure analysis is the immediate step after any hazard or risk has been identified and reported. Risk assessments involve the determination of three critical aspects:

  • The severity of the risk, meaning how much harm it could cause.
  • The probability of the occurrence.
  • How quickly corrective actions or preventive actions (CPAs) need to be implemented.

To determine the aspects in the list, the risk assessment is normally conducted by using a risk matrix. A risk matrix usually contains cells showing the likelihood of the occurrence and the severity of the risk you are assessing, and there are different risk matrix sizes depending on the criteria applied.

For example, very high risk can be one showing a high probability to happen and a catastrophic level of severity. The probability is normally based on the level of exposure to that specific risk.

The risk matrix is one of the best tools for risk assessments because it helps safety teams make quick and smart decisions while evaluating and assessing any risk. Consistent evaluation and assessment are necessary to determine long-term trends, so it is a common practice to have the same person or team assess the risk.

Aviation risk and safety management keywords in many colours in a shape of an airplane.
Image source: https://beaconmaster.uk/2020/03/16/

Determine the risk controls needed

The risk assessment conducted with a risk matrix provides very good information about existing risks and how well the strategies set will perform when controlling risk. To determine if the controlling risk strategies are enough or other controls are needed, you can answer these questions:

  • Can the hazard be contained or controlled in case of spontaneous occurrence?
  • Can one incident lead to another, like electrical failure leading to fire?
  • What would be the resulting harm? Will it be physical harm, damage to the reputation, equipment, or plant damage?
  • Has it happened before whether at your company, another company, or in the industry?

Whenever the safety seems to be compromised and the controls in place seem insufficient, extra controls may be needed. This may include:

  • Updating safety policies or procedures.
  • Implementation of personal protective equipment (PPE) for improved personnel safety.
  • Updating safety resources such as tools and equipment.
  • Installing systems that assist in identifying possible safety issues earlier.
  • Continuous training for the personnel.

Risk management actions implementation, monitoring, and review

It is clear that identifying the possible safety issues and the controls required to contain them could be the most relevant of all processes in safety risk management. However, this does not occur in one day or one month, not even in a year.

Collecting and evaluating the data to create the safest environment take time. Also, management needs to monitor and review whether the actions lead to the desired results in order to make appropriate corrections along the way.

More importantly and perhaps the most essential consideration is that aviation safety goes beyond flight operations. As it was mentioned above, it involves the whole aviation industry structure including aircraft maintenance services, fueling services, and much more.

Therefore, change across the whole structure is necessary and inevitable to accomplish well-managed flight operations and prevent accidents in different areas of aviation. And change needs great leadership to be implemented properly and obtain all the possible benefits the business can get from a culture of change.

So, if you are interested in learning about the leader’s abilities to create the proper environment for change and transformation initiatives for success, you don’t have to look further. Aeroclass offers the right course for you and you can check it out now.

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Jet pilot @NASA

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