AEA Says Safety Management Systems Unwieldy

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The Aircraft Electronics Association says the FAA's approach to safety management systems (SMS) is "an excessive, unwarranted and unjustified administrative burden" that is poorly thought out and has no identifiable justification or goals. The association submitted detailed comments on the FAA's Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (PDF) Monday and is clearly worried about the implications of the measures if they become regulations. "In addition, the agency has not clearly defined the hazard SMS is intended to address, but rather defines SMS to address 'unknown' hazards," the association said. "This mandate is not within the scope of current rulemaking practices." The AEA says SMS may have a place in multi-lateral organizations like airlines but they're not much more than paper chases for smaller companies. FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt championed the SMS proposal last week at the National Business Aviation Association convention but his message was out of step with the other speakers, who were all pumping the value and contribution of business aircraft, and perhaps didn't get the attention Babbitt hoped.

In his NBAA speech, Babbitt suggested aviation was analogous to the field of anesthesiology, which, in a culture of litigation-based fear, resisted thoroughly investigating the cause of numerous operating-room deaths over the past few decades. When those investigations were finally done by a committee of anesthesiologists, it was found that relatively simple precautions would have prevented hundreds of needless deaths. Babbitt said he hopes an SMS system would engender a similar culture of safety in aviation, not because there are a lot of accidents, but because there are so few that it's hard to spot problems or trends. "We've nearly eliminated the common causes of aviation accidents. But safety management systems will allow us to spot precursors," he said. "That's the data. That's the gold. That's where we need to dig."