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StandardAero Completes SMS Integration Across All Facilities

By By Brian F. Finnegan | April 1, 2010
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The Rolls-Royce Model 250 on a Bell 430. Rolls-Royce

StandardAero recently joined forces with three equally long-established companies—Landmark Aviation’s MRO services (formerly Garrett Aviation), Associated Air Center and TSS Aviation. To solidify the corporate culture under one quality banner, the leadership team then set its focus on enhancing the company’s reputation for technical excellence and high quality products and services with the implementation of a comprehensive Safety Management System (SMS).

Founded in 1911, StandardAero is one of the largest independent MRO businesses in the world. It has spent more than 40 of those years providing repair and overhaul services for one of the world’s most successful helicopter engines—the Rolls-Royce Model 250.


The company has more than 4,000 employees working out of facilities located in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia and Australia and serving customers from more than 80 different countries.

ICAO, FAA, EASA, Transport Canada

StandardAero began its four-year SMS journey in March 2006. The decision was driven by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Annex 6 Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) that emphasized SMS as a key piece in the civil aviation safety puzzle.

Transport Canada was one of the many regulatory agencies that adopted SMS in the Canadian Aviation Regulations. On the U.S. side of the house, FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) is looking at implementing SMS language either this year or sometime early next year.

After familiarizing themselves with the ICAO recommendations, “Standard- Aero began its SMS journey by starting a little cross-functional team of about 8-10 employees,” said Leon P. Dodd, Jr., corporate director of quality. “In 2007, we started developing procedures, a continuous improvement initiative and a corrective action initiative” that was already imbedded in their ISO-accredited quality management system.

With reference to the ISO AS9110 standard and ICAO’s recommendations, StandardAero approached SMS integration by focusing on four distinct areas:

• Safety Policy and Objective

• Safety Risk Management

• Safety Assurance

• Safety Promotion

StandardAero has now fully implemented SMS and has been audited by DNV, its third party ISO/AS9110 accreditation entity. In addition, customers and third-party regulatory agencies like the FAA and Transport Canada are auditing StandardAero regularly.

Even though these review groups are coming in and looking at it, the official checklist for the many SMS policies and procedures are still being hammered out with ICAO and others, like FAA and DNV. “The four key aspects of SMS don’t deviate much between ICAO, Canada, FAA and EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency),” said Dodd, “but there is a lot of interpretation on what each one of the four phases of SMS exactly means.”

“When we kicked the program off,” noted Tom Roche, vice president helicopter programs, “customer input was very important to us. We did a fair number of interviews with some of our major companies to really substantiate what their expectations were and try to baseline some things.” StandardAero’s customers have been very supportive and, in many cases, they have been very positive in their feedback. StandardAero has been able to effectively use its SMS process format and the background behind the system as an effective tool for marketing their total organization to certain customer segments.

Recently, some in the aviation community have questioned whether SMS is really just a way for the regulators to shift responsibility onto operators or service providers. Dodd refutes that assertion. “I’ve been in aviation 35 years and I have been though ISO, AS9110, TQM (Total Quality Management) and now SMS. Here in Maryville, Tenn., we have up to 70 audits a year and half of those are FAA-related. So, I can assure you, even with these new SMS standards coming out, StandardAero will still have these kinds of audits.

SMS looks at the enterprise as a whole, unlike traditional control methods that tend to focus on individual processes. While the majority of SMS activity will continue to be directed toward particular specialist functions, the system is also concerned with how those functions interrelate.

Leadership from the Top

The cultural shift that is integral to successful SMS implementation is said to be possible only with leadership from the top. StandardAero’s SMS accountable managers, Robert Mionis and Kim Olson, are at the pinnacle of the StandardAero leadership hierarchy. Mionis is CEO of Dubai Aerospace Enterprise (DAE) Manufacturing and Engineering subsidiaries and president & CEO of StandardAero. Olson is StandardAero’s senior vice president of engineering technology.

There was broad internal recognition that changes in the StandardAero organizational culture were necessary. The company had quite a few problem solving tools—one of them being a continuous improvement (CI) tool and a more formal corrective action request system (CARS). “We’ve integrated our SMS into these quality management tools to make sure that when the teams on the floor identify product safety issues,” said Dodd, “they have the proper problem solving tools with which to reduce the risk that was identified.”

When the SMS work got started, StandardAero launched several improvement initiatives against the key elements of the ICAO standard. It developed and provided an eight-hour training initiative for every employee within the company on continuous improvement, SMS and risk mitigation strategies. “On average,” noted Dodd, “each business unit allows the teams to meet once a week or once every other week, for 30 minutes to an hour to do problem solving.”

Defining Safety

StandardAero has implemented SMS across all lines and all facilities. Shown here is one of StandardAero’s helicopter engine lines.

One of the challenges StandardAero experienced during its implementation of SMS was in the use of the word “safety.” There was confusion about whether the word referred to shop floor safety, product safety or flight safety. “We had to do some training in the different interpretations of occupational health safety and flight safety,” acknowledged Dodd. “Although some of the problem solving processes may be the same, in terms of risk identification and risk mitigation, and some of the tools for problem solving may be the same, we wanted to make sure that there is a differentiation between floor safety and product and flight safety.”

Mike Turner, director of marketing and corporate communications, picked up on that differentiation, as well. “We do a lot to reinforce that from an internal communications perspective through our intranet and a number of internal communications pieces. By utilizing our newsletter and things like that, many of those stories are reinforced,” said Turner.

One of StandardAero’s more important safety metric numbers, from an SMS perspective, is found in its 2010 goal to reduce by 10 percent the risk associated with SMS continuous improvement programs. “We have more than 500 continuous improvement projects for 2009 and only 27 of them were SMS related, which is about par,” observed Dodd.

“Other medium to large companies like ours are reporting 10 percent or less SMS CI issues compared to the rest of their initiatives. Some are product-related and some are cost reduction. And then others are SMS-related.”

Risk management plays a very important role in StandardAero’s SMS. When a continuous improvement opportunity is identified as an SMS-related issue, the CI facilitator or team leader goes into StandardAero’s software and then opens a flight safety issue.

“What pops up,” said Dodd, “is what we call our risk assessment matrix (RAM). The team does the initial risk assessment for the CI at the start of our seven-step CI process.” The team identifies where the risk is in step one and they look at how much the risk was reduced during step seven. 

StandardAero acknowledges there were costs associated with the start of its SMS program. “Certainly, initially, there is an added expense burden as you spool things up,” noted Tom Roche. “But our business is all about driving operating costs down for the operator.” Noting the company’s investment in the eight-hour employee training program, Roche emphasized that the importance the company places on SMS is extremely high. “It’s what we do. It’s our business, our brand. It’s what we deliver day in and day out.”


Roche added that some of the improvements StandardAero is encountering are opportunities to extend the life of certain products or develop repairs based on the collective awareness of its highly experienced people. He noted that StandardAero employees “have many, many years of experience looking at the materials in the engines after they have been run though TBO (time before overhaul),” said Roche. With SMS, StandardAero has found they are identifying or highlighting areas in which recommendations can be made through customer service and engineering teams back to the customer. “Its not just an opportunity for us to provide flight safety awareness,” observed Roche. “It’s also an opportunity for us to provide feedback to the operator on opportunities they can implement to help reduce costs on their engine when it does come to us.”

With the implementation of their SMS, StandardAero looks with an eye to improving operations. “Something simple like the way someone is doing their job or developing a new technique” is always getting fresh look, says Roche. “It doesn’t always have to be focused on a flight safety issue, but, certainly, it is the same tool. It’s the same mindset … making sure that overall, you are doing something better tomorrow than you did today.”

In the helicopter world, StandardAero predominantly services the Rolls-Royce 250 turbine engine, although it does have a small Turbomeca operation in Singapore. The SMS concept has been rolled out throughout the entire organization. “SMS has had a big effect on how people think and how people approach their jobs on a daily basis,” said Roche with a focus on his helicopter operations. “We had bits of the SMS system in our culture anyway, but this has really cemented a lot of things.” He noted that SMS has really opened up the opportunity for people to provide insights and speak up when they don’t think something is going the way it should.

StandardAero has coordinated two separate groups within the helicopter organization related to SMS—the Continuous Improvement Council and the Flight Safety Review Board. “The CI Council is where the management team reviews CI projects on a weekly basis and the people responsible for the projects brief us on their progress,” said Roche. “They tell us what they are doing and we provide approvals for funding and what not.”

“The Flight Safety Review Board (FSRB) is focused on anything in our organization, or in our customer’s world, that is in any way, shape or form related to flight safety,” said Roche. “It could be an in-flight shutdown or some reported incident from a customer, or it could be something that’s happened within our own facility.”

The FSRB is an internal group that is outwardly focused. “We are not only interested in what is going on in our own organization, but we are also interested in what’s going in the operator’s world,” said Roche, noting that StandardAero has a Customer Council with large fleet customer representatives participating. “It helps us to know what’s driving them to do certain things that affect not only their own operation, but the product as it comes back to us.”

Both Dodd and Roche were proud that StandardAero’s whole continuous improvement model has built in some of the primary elements of their organization with turn-around time and due-date compliances among the company guarantees that benefit. “We focus very heavily on maintaining or enhancing the customer’s experience through the whole continuous process,” said Roche. “SMS certainly has not had a negative impact on turn-time.” StandardAero feels the tools behind SMS provide an opportunity for them to make sure that the customer receives much better product.

Open Reporting Culture

Regarding the implementation of an open culture, one of the fundamental tenets of a successful SMS program, Dodd was forthright. “I want to point out, first of all, that we have a very, very open culture. We encourage the employees to document their ideas. If they feel that there may be an issue with a supervisor or with the culture, they can leave it unsigned and hand the idea off to either a supervisor in Tom’s organization or to an on-site quality inspector, chief inspector or accountable manager.” If these reports need to be non-disclosed from an employee point of view, they are allowed to go through that route.

Does the emphasis on self-reporting and just culture tend to dilute the need for individuals to be responsible for their actions? “No,” replied Dodd. “One of the things we did in training was to emphasize that this is not a get-out-of-jail card. We always want the employees to be accountable for the work that they do. Obviously, from management’s point of view, we have to make sure they have been properly trained, have proper tooling, proper instructions and so forth. We always look to make sure that the proper tools were given to the employee to do the job correctly, but nonetheless, if there is an accountability issue, we’ll deal with that as well.”

Tom Roche had a similar perspective. “I originally thought we’d be faced with people using the system as a method to avoid accountability. But it has been refreshing to see that people have actually taken more responsibility for what they do.” Roche notes that the employees have embraced the idea that they can push the envelope, so long as they are within the bounds of the organization. They don’t have a fear of trying to do things better or more effectively. Roche was impressed that “we have some people that you wouldn’t necessarily expect come forward and say, ‘You know what, guys, I have really messed up here and we’ve got to take care of this right now.’ It’s worked out surprising well … but it takes a huge commitment on the part of the entire organization to make that work.”

Dodd agreed: “We want the employee, when they find an issue, to get it resolved. You have to have that open culture value within your company to do that.”

“Our customers really appreciate what we have done and they have asked for a lot of support from us in the development of their own systems, especially with the self-disclosure aspect,” added Roche. “They have really struggled with that element of it and how to get around everything having a consequence. The secret is, says Roche, “everything doesn’t necessarily have to have negative consequences.”


In the helicopter world, where Standard- Aero has six facilities, the implementation across those sites was watched very closely. “You watch the wave kind of happen,” said Roche of his global domain. “You get a bit of momentum going at one location and then it starts to leak out and get to the other organizations by little bits.” He emphasized the importance of introducing SMS to the staff slowly because at smaller sites, the processes can initially be overwhelming.

“If it’s not done properly,” observed Roche, “people will shut down on you. But, I’ll tell you, once you get there, once you demonstrate it to people, it’s not a daunting task. It’s not something that’s going to prevent them from supporting their customers and it’s not going to keep them awake at night,” said Roche. “In fact, it makes me sleep better at night to know that everybody’s thinking along the same lines and doing the same types of things and we have a lot of continuity in our organization. It does take time. There’s no question. Until you get it firmly embedded in every one of those locations, you can’t let it go. You absolutely cannot let it go.”

The Final Analysis

Roche concluded his thoughts on the implementation of SMS at StandardAero by noting that, because they have some pretty significant levels of experience at their various sites, they did run into a number of our employees who kind of looked at the management team and said, “‘Are you crazy? I’ve been doing this for 25 years; I’ve been doing this for 30 years. What can I learn? I know what it’s all about; I know what the customers are like.’ It’s been really refreshing,” noted Roche, “to watch them get engaged and realize that there is something that they can not only learn, but that they can impart on other people.”

Dodd, like the consummate quality director he is, had a list of three take-aways form the StandardAero SMS implementation experience. “One,” said Dodd, “was employee awareness of product and flight safety. A lot of these guys and gals are actually problem solving every day. This gives them an opportunity to document it and get some team recognition. Second is the actual risk reduction of the process they are working on for continuous improvement. And third is that StandardAero is using this unique opportunity to integrate SMS into our quality management infrastructure and make that a part of our DNA.”

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