FAA To Expand Safety Management Systems Requirements


The FAA intends to significantly broaden its safety management systems requirement according to a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) published Jan. 11. The new rule would require charter, commuter and air tour operators along with aircraft manufacturers to implement safety management systems. “This proposed rule is intended to improve aviation safety by requiring organizations to implement a proactive approach to managing safety,” the agency said in the NPRM. Comments close on March 13.

Safety management systems have been required by airlines since 2018 and are aimed at making operators and manufacturers address safety issues to prevent accidents rather than react to them. “A safety management system (SMS) provides an organization-wide approach to identifying safety hazards, assessing, and managing safety risk, and assuring the effectiveness of safety risk controls,” the NPRM reads. “An SMS provides a set of decision-making processes and procedures that can improve safety by assisting an organization in planning, organizing, directing, and controlling its aviation-related business activities.” 

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. I do not believe that internal decisions in a private business are anywhere near what the FAA was created for.

    • Arthur, you could not be more wrong. All airlines, tour operators, aircraft manufacturers and maintenance organizations are private businesses; to accomplish the goal of assuring a reasonable level of public safety the PRIMARY PURPOSE of the FAA is to regulate how those businesses are run.

      • “Our continuing mission is to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world.” Maybe that’s the problem. They think they run airlines which are just cogs in their system.
        All government regulators, like the FAA, should be concerned only with results. This may seem a semantic difference, but it totally is not.
        There is a a massively important line between having an airline demonstrate their procedures will meet the safety requirements, and telling them how they must operate. When an agency crosses such a line, it should be, and may soon be, an act which puts the burden of results on the agency and its agents. In other words, it should eliminate their protections under qualified immunity.
        In fact, a review of every agency’s mission would likely be a really good use of resources. For instance, how about we change the mission at the IRS to collecting the accurate taxes? Sometimes they behave like that’s what they do, and often they act like accuracy is a just a burden they must bear.

      • No, the FAA defines parts and assmblies and testing and documentation. They DO NOT define hiring or firing or payroll or marketing plans or how many meetings that employees have to attend. Basically it’s none of their business.

        On a side note, I think the FAA is the one that has a “safety culture” problem and they should address their own failings first. IMHO.

        • Not quite correct. In the air carrier world whether pt 121 or 135, the FAA has to approve almost any part of the operation. Want to change a procedure or checklist, the FAA POI for that company has to approve. Want to move physical location, hire new management personnel (chief pilot, director of operations, director of maintenance, etc), make changes to operations manuals, all have to be approved. I could go on and on, on things the FAA has to approve in air carrier ops. Pt 91 is another thing entirely. Not as much regulation as air carrier ops. I do agree about the “safety culture” comment. If the FAA wants to increase coverage of SMS, why does the FAA not operate with a SMS themselves?

          • I agree there is are internal proceedural approvals in place by the FAA, it’s just not clear what “significantly broaden its safety management systems requirement” is meant nor will any new rules ever be judged on effectiveness (and removed if they are inefective). As a Part 91 guy, I think we already have plenty of rules/regulations and I can’t imagine that 121/135 guys would complain that there were too few.

  2. Where is the money for this coming from? It’s one thing to impose safety requirements on operators and manufacturers, but another thing entirely to pay for these requirements. This is not a trivial program for most operators, and will have a significant impact on their businesses.

  3. Safety is a menacingly powerful word.

    While many safety aspects can be quantified with historical data, assessment qualitative and emotional aspects tend to vary with the situation or implementation. I operated with SMS requirements throughout my career that ranged from, “How you will mitigate this risk” to “Prove to me that this risk won’t be realized”. Yes, you can be too safe. To say that openly casts shade on you and your organization. But good intentioned imposition of requirements in the name of safety can easily paralyze an operation. Some of the periodic reporting requirements alone in the NPRM will prove onerous for a small operation.

    The NBAA has been advocating and providing resources for developing scaled SMS implementations for a number of years. Their program is as reasonable an approach as I’ve seen for fairly universal application in aviation operations.


  4. If SMS is such a wonderful thing, why doesn’t the FAA operate under one? If they had, according to those who support SMS, maybe the Notam fiasco would have had a better outcome.

  5. We’ve gone through SMS in New Zealand. I would say about 90% of the benefits come from 20% of the system, and the rest is all cost in time and money (and all cost is a harm to safety). We were promised from the start that it would be scaled to the size of our operations, but in the end we had to do all the requirements even if the CAA guys acknowledged it made little sense for us.

    The hardest part of implementation was a lack of understanding from CAA about SMS since they were quite new to it as well, so we had little effective guidance (despite a lot of effort on their part) and a lot of inconsistent directives. Different CAA officials would have different ideas about how parts were supposed to work, and we would get whipped back and forth or have to push back against some of the zanier ideas.

  6. I guess this doesn’t say much for American’s SMS.Sometimes all the SMS in the world don’t prevent accidents.Then again, maybe there would be one runway accident every week without a SMS.

  7. Arthur J.F – you could not be more incorrect. On May 21, 1958, Senator A. S. “Mike” Monroney from Oklahoma introduced a bill to create an independent Federal Aviation Agency to provide for the safe and efficient use of national airspace. Two months later, on August 23, 1958, President Eisenhower signed the Federal Aviation Act, which transferred the Civil Aeronautics Authority’s functions to a new independent Federal Aviation Agency responsible for civil aviation safety.SMS is the formal, top-down, organization-wide approach to managing safety risk and assuring the effectiveness of safety risk controls. It includes systematic procedures, practices, and policies for the management of safety risk. (FAA Order 8000.369)

    SMS introduces an evolutionary process in system safety and safety management. SMS is a structured process that obligates organizations to manage safety with the same level of priority that other core business processes are managed. This applies to both internal (FAA) and external aviation industry organizations (Operator & Product Service Provider).

    Safety Management System (SMS) is becoming a standard throughout the aviation industry worldwide. It is recognized by the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO), International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and civil aviation authorities (CAA) and product/service providers as the next step in the evolution of safety in aviation. SMS is also becoming a standard for the management of safety beyond aviation and SMS is the required foundation mission operation program in the U.S. Military.

    Similar management systems are used in the management of other critical areas such as quality, occupational safety and health, security, environment, fire and rescue services.

    SMS provides to both certificate holders and FAA:

    A structured means of safety risk management decision making-
    A means of demonstrating safety management capability before system failures occur.
    Increased confidence in risk controls though structured safety assurance processes
    An effective interface for knowledge sharing between regulator and certificate holder.
    A safety promotion framework to support a sound safety culture.

    SMS is composed of four functional components:

    Safety Policy
    Safety Risk Management
    Safety Assurance
    Safety Promotion

    The essential idea of any SMS — be it a product/service provider’s SMS or the SMS of the regulator responsible for safety oversight — is to provide for a systematic approach to achieving acceptable levels of safety risk.

  8. Matt W.- You seem to be obsessed with last week’s Ground Hold imposed due to the Software engineer Techs misloading files and crashing the NOTAM system. From Paul Bertorelli :
    ” One flyspeck detail that GA pilots may have missed is that under Part 91, we’re technically wedded to NOTAMs, too. In the Preflight Action section of 91.103 is this: “Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight,” then it lists the basic stuff you’re supposed to know. If the airlines don’t have it, they can’t dispatch and if GA pilots don’t have it, a defense that NOTAMs were down probably wouldn’t cut it if you, say, blundered into a TFR and caught a Blackhawk intercept. (TFRs have their own system, but you get the point.)”
    NOTAMs communicate information concerning the rules and regulations that govern flight operations, the use of navigation facilities, and designation of that airspace in which the rules and regulations apply.

    (c) When a NOTAM has been issued under this section, no person may operate an aircraft, or other device governed by the regulation concerned, within the designated airspace except in accordance with the authorizations, terms, and conditions prescribed in the regulation covered by the NOTAM.

    § 91.139 Emergency air traffic rules.
    (a) This section prescribes a process for utilizing Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) to advise of the issuance and operations under emergency air traffic rules and regulations and designates the official who is authorized to issue NOTAMs on behalf of the Administrator in certain matters under this section.

    91.103 Preflight action. Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight.

    There have been several NTSB decisions in the past decade(s) stating that just because the PIC couldn’t access “it”, didn’t relinquish responsibility of the PIC to still ‘obtain’-ALL information concerning that flight before commencing upon that flight. That information includes NAV aid outages, runway lighting, TFR’s, etc.
    AC 91-92 – Pilot’s Guide to a Preflight Briefing


    • All I can say is there will be a lot more incentive to not punish people for these transgressions under the current court. The old system of Chevron deference, where all deference goes to the government, has been squashed (at least until the statists can take back SCOTUS).
      It seems to me the NOTAM system would simply be shown to be a case of a lazy, intransigent bureaucracy denying travel because they couldn’t be bothered to update the quality and availability of the information. Obviously, you couldn’t ask a pilot to translate several pages of Cicero before taking off. Certainly, denying him the pages to boot would cross a line. Any decent litigator should be able to make the case that NOTAMS are now less about safety than cover for FAA careers and budgets.

    • Flightplan.com had all of the notams in their system up until the feds computers crapped out. Any updated info that pertained to my flight I got with several phone calls to destination FBO and from company. Although a pain in the behind to do the extra work, still able to conduct flight. If I was VFR it would be a little harder due to making sure no TFR’s, but I have been told that is a different system. Absolutely, positively no reason to totally shut down US airspace. The Canadians didn’t shut their airspace down during their notam glitch!

    • It’s not any different then ATC shutting down routes due to weather, even though there may not be any traffic in those routes. It’s called acting as “pilot in command”. How many VFR pilots do you know that ignore the “VFR not recommended “ from flight service? All of these shutdowns (except 9/11 of course) are nothing more than someone at the FAA or DOT covering their behinds worrying about any liability, instead of doing their jobs.

  9. If SMS is such a good thing how come it took an act of Congress to get the FAA to introduce the NPRM to get this moving?

  10. Looks like the requests for delays have started. Ainonline has a report that NATA is requesting that the comment period be extended for this NPRM.