This final ruling by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires all authorized Part 121 air carriers to create and put into place a safety management system (SMS).
The rule came into effect on March 9th, 2015 and requires Part 121 Air Carriers to begin the process of planning and implementing an SMS. Within six months of the date, air carriers will need to submit their implementation plan to the FAA; then within three years of the same date, have it operating.
The FAA put this ruling into place as part of a concerted effort to improve the safety of air transportation and change the industry’s reactive attitude towards safety into a proactive one.
According to the FAA, the commercial air carrier accident rate has decreased by a great amount in the United States over the past decade – but the FAA discovered a trend of what could have been preventable hazards and accidents. Spurred on by this, part 121 air carrier’s must submit an implementation plan within six months of the final ruling, and implement the SMS proposed by the end of this three-year period.
What goes into a Safety Management System?:
The Safety Management System must have the four major components: safety policy, safety risk management, safety assurance, and safety promotion. These four parts must be fulfilled in order to have a functioning and proper SMS.
Safety Policy requires the air carrier to define safety objectives and commit towards reaching them. It also calls for the designation of an accountable executive who is responsible for the safety performance and management of its operations. This executive and a sufficient management staff will be responsible for the organization, integration, implementation and maintenance of the safety management system.
The safety risk management component is fairly straightforward. It requires air carriers to develop a process of analyzing existing and potential systems, and identify hazards that might impact operations. Once they’re identified, the risk and the possibility is analyzed to determine if it’s an acceptable safety risk or not. If it is not, then methods of risk control must be implemented.
Safety assurance is the method through which “the air carrier will develop and implement processes to monitor the safety performance of its aviation operations,” according to the FAA. It is designed to be a way to monitor and audit operational processes, investigate incidents and accidents, and allow for confidential reporting of hazards and new safety improvements.
Safety promotion is the training of employees and managers to develop the tools needed to communicate necessary safety information. Involvement of employees is vital to the success of an air carrier’s safety management system. Employees must know their responsibilities and duties, and be trained in everything relevant to the safety performance of the air carrier. They must also be made aware of any information resulting from various safety management system analyzes.
The cost of implementing the rule is estimated to be $135.1 million dollars over ten years, but the benefits could be anywhere from $104.9 to $241.9 million dollars across the decade. The benefits depend heavily on the mitigation costs, but they are difficult to quantify.
The FAA has adopted the final rule with a number of minor modifications based on comments. Some of the important changes are as follows:
Scalability was addressed – though the rule was not limited as suggested. The FAA recognized the impact that the rule could make on small businesses. The FAA designed the requirements to be applicable to all air carriers, making sure that all sizes, scopes, complexities and types were covered. 14 CFR 5.3 was revised in order to fit these changes.
A number of entities asserted that the rule was too broad and would reach beyond the Federal Aviation Administration’s oversight authority. Commenters suggested that the rule be revised in such a way to limit SMS to areas that would only directly affect aviation activities. The FAA took the comments into account and limited it as such.
The FAA acknowledged that some airports may only use their safety management systems on the narrow range where it is required, and others may expand it beyond that. If an air carrier decides to expand, the FAA will continue to only oversee SMS related activities in accordance with the provision.
Protection of Information under FOIA:
Sixteen organizations raised concerns about SMS data not being protected from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. The consequence would be that the Federal Aviation Administration’s oversight would be compromised because of the lack of data being submitted to them. Commenters said that the protection of data is vital to ensuring the free-flow of information with the FAA.
The FAA noted that there are already protections afforded to voluntarily submitted reports, data and such under Public Law 112-95 (the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012) – as long as it has been produced or collected to develop and implement a safety management system.
The FAA was asked to publish its plan for compliance and enforcement. The FAA stated that each SMS would be uniquely designed to meet the needs and wants of each air carrier. Determining compliance will depend on what is needed in each case – meaning discretion will be exercised in deciding how to enact enforcement.
The FAA also acknowledged that a fundamental concept of safety management system is for the air carriers to identify and correct their own noncompliance – which is not a new concept with FAA policy.
There are many more items that were discussed and addressed in the comments and by the FAA – so if these are of interest or affect you, read on in the full final ruling on the topic issued by the FAA here. (January 2015)