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FAA proposes Safety Management Systems for airlines
5 November 2010

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed to require Safety Management Systems (SMS) for most commercial airlines.

Safety management systems give operators a set of business processes and management tools to examine data from everyday operations, isolate trends that may be precursors to incidents or accidents, and develop and carry out appropriate risk mitigation strategies. They are a formal approach to managing an organization’s safety through four key components – safety policy, safety risk management, safety assurance, and safety promotion.

The requirements of the SMS proposal would define “what” is expected rather than “how” the requirement is to be met. This allows for development and implementation of an SMS that matches the size, complexity and business models of diverse organizations in ways appropriate to their unique systems and operating environments.

Under the proposed rule, scheduled air carriers and a few others operating under Part 121 of federal aviation regulations would be required to implement an SMS within three years. The carriers would have to submit their SMS implementation plans to the FAA within six months of the final rule’s effective date. The plan would be required to show how the airline intends to comply with the rule within the three-year implementation period. An SMS would not take the place of regular FAA oversight, inspection and audits to ensure compliance with existing regulations.

The FAA began exploring system safety-based oversight concepts in the mid- to late- 1990s. During that time, the agency concluded system safety has to be practiced by operators, repair stations, flight schools, other aviation service providers and the agency itself. In 2006, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) required that all member countries implement SMS standards for operators and approved maintenance organizations.

The FAA’s own Air Traffic Organization has already begun implementing an SMS, and the agency recently issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that would require FAA-certified airports to establish SMS for all airfield and ramp areas.

The estimated cost of this proposed rule for U.S. air carriers is $390 million, with estimated benefits of $470 million. The proposal conforms to ICAO SMS provisions.


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