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Safety Management Systems (SMS) implementation is currently a voluntary pursuit for collegiate aviation programs. Some programs have implemented SMS and others are beginning to consider it. An understanding of the impact of SMS on safety culture at institutions actively implementing SMS and the potential challenges posed can be useful to the entire collegiate aviation community. The safety culture perceptions across three collegiate aviation programs with varying levels and types of SMS implementation were explored through semi-structured interviews of students, certified flight instructors (CFI), and safety leaders. Emergent codes and subsequent themes derived from the semi-structured interviews suggest an apparent knowledge gap among respondents on the SMS implementation phases and some essential attributes of a fully-functional SMS program. Another significant finding was that CFI plays a critical role in developing students’ perception of safety culture by setting the example for desired safety behavior and exposing students to the safety processes within programs. The findings suggest that using practical or scenario-based learning in SMS training can ensure understanding and enhance a sensed ownership of SMS processes in the various programs. The results also suggest that actively engaging CFI in SMS higher-level processes such as safety risk assessments and audits can improve their safety leadership and empower them as effective mentors for their students. Active participation in the SMS process by aviation students can significantly improve their perceptions of safety culture, enhance desired safety behaviors, and bridge the knowledge gap required for entry into the aviation industry.
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