FAA Mandates SMS For 265 Major Airports


The FAA is requiring the establishment of safety management systems (SMS) at 265 of the country’s biggest and busiest airports with a final rule that will be effective 60 days from its publication in the Federal Register. The airports will have up to five years to complete their SMS. “The safe operation of our nation’s airports is paramount during these historic times in aviation as we work to repair and construct necessary airport infrastructure,” said Associate Administrator for Airports Shannetta R. Griffin, P.E. “This rule promotes safety and allows airports to work collaboratively with partners to mitigate risks and avert accidents.” 

The rule applies to airports with more than 100,000 operations annually, airports that function as airline hubs and those that are ports of entry for anything beyond general aviation. It came on the heels of a similar requirement for charter and air taxi operators and aircraft manufacturers proposed in January. Airlines have had an SMS requirement since 2018. SMS is a structure established within an organization to assess and predict potential safety hazards with an eye to preventing accidents and injuries. Most other flying nations have implemented them and the FAA says the active emphasis on safety and accident prevention becomes fundamental to the safety culture in the organization.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. 5 years sounds pretty generous for what sounds like largely a paper exercise? A valuable one, sure, but 5 years?

    • Most airports voluntarily implementing SMS are taking around 5 years to gather data for trending. A typical implementation is around 3 years. If you check out the rule (see link below), the FAA is offering different timelines based on the size of the airport so not all will have as much time. I’ve been working with airports since 2008 including a number of FAA pilot studies and we have seen a wide array of benefits including better collaboration with airlines and air traffic by formally assessing safety hazards related to airside construction. Airports in Canada and Europe have been operating an SMS for more than 10 years and have found positive results. Hopefully for most airports this won’t be a paper exercise and they will benefit from the system safety approach. https://www.faa.gov/airports/airport_safety/safety_management_systems/external/part_139_SMS_subpartE_draft

  2. SMS is coming big time to ALL levels of aviation, even down to Part 141 flight schools and small Part 135 operators. The coming of SMS to lower levels of aviation (including its non-mandatory application all the way down to personal light GA flying) was the FAASTeam Topic of the Month last month (Jan 23). And no, it’s not just a “paper exercise” — it’s a systemic approach to avoiding accidents in everyday flight operations which has proven effective in improving safety in large operations like the military and major air carriers.

    • Sounds like the same “sales” number I have been hearing since the SMS craze started. It will be interesting if not entertaining to see all of the comments to the proposed pt 135 and 91K rule. The comment period for pt 135 and pt 91K has already been extended on request of several GA organizations.

  3. Wow, I’m thinking it’s time to investigate getting in on the ground floor of a revenue-generating gravy train by establishing a “consultancy” to investigate the failure of a given SMS, and the failure of the organization which mandated the SMS and signed off on its viability, once something occurs which is outside the scope of the “predictability” of adverse events. Because if there is any consistent truth about aviation, it is that Something Is Gonna Happen.

  4. Is it bad I’m disappointed here? I saw SMS and (mistakenly) thought we were going to have text-based (a.k.a. “SMS”) clearance delivery available without having to pay for higher-end ForeFlight to use it.