Total System Approach in aviation

Introduction – the drivers for a total system approach

The aviation sector comprises a great many organisations and individuals, all providing a range of different but highly interdependent services. Aviation system 'components', in terms of activities and categories of service providers, are part of this complex socio-technical system. Given that an acceptable level of safety is a key desired outcome from this complex system, all regulated providers of aviation services or products (hereafter referred to as 'service providers') should ideally implement compatible safety management processes. This facilitates effective interoperability between individual SMS which in turn reduces the risk of safety gaps or overlaps, and clarifies responsibilities regarding hazard identification and risk management. It is also a proven and effective way to detect potential hazards and mitigate their consequences at all levels of the aviation system and at the earliest possible opportunity. In addition, it ensures that all actors "speak the same language" when it comes to safety and safety management, thus supporting the effective and efficient delivery of acceptable levels of overall safety performance. Read more


Until recently requirements, whether ICAO SARPs, or National regulations, have usually been developed entirely within domains. This could lead to contradicting views or approaches on issues closely related to, or having the potential to affect each other. The drafting of new or changed requirements now needs to be undertaken by experts in a specific domain who are provided with the support necessary to ensure they have an understanding of the impact ‘their regulations’ could have on adjacent domains. This will require all staff, whether they are developing the rules, or are involved in an implementing role, to adopt a different approach to their work and take a more holistic view of their working environment. Read more

Support in the implementation of a Total System Approach

The implementation of a total system approach is best driven from the highest level. ICAO has facilitated this with its requirements for a State Safety Plan (SSP). The development and implementation of the SSP will lead to a state safety programme which will necessarily cover all of the aviation domains and drive discussion between them, identifying interdependencies and common factors. Read more


Given the large number of changes taking place in the aviation industry, whether in terms of new technologies, new systems, new training methodologies, or new regulatory regimes, it is clear that the "Total System" approach will be fundamental to ensuring that safety performance continues to improve.