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FAA issues final rule mandating SMS for part 135 operators

By Vertical Mag | April 24, 2024

Estimated reading time 4 minutes, 39 seconds.

All companies flying part 135 commuter and on-demand operations will need to have a safety management system (SMS) in place within the next three years, following a newly-passed final rule from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The rule, which also applies to air tour operators with a letter of agreement (LOA) under 14 CFR 91.147, as well as certain aircraft manufacturers, expands on the 14 CFR Part 5 SMS mandate that has been applied to U.S. airlines since 2018.

“Requiring more aviation organizations to implement a proactive approach to managing safety will prevent accidents and save lives,” FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said.

The final rule goes beyond the requirements of the Aircraft Certification, Safety and Accountability Act of 2020, which directed the FAA to mandate SMS only for aircraft manufacturers. The FAA said the rule also addresses recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board and independent review panels.

In a press release announcing the mandate, the FAA said SMS “provides a means for a structured, repeatable, systematic approach to proactively identify hazards and manage safety risk.”

It said that by incorporating SMS, aviation organization will be “better able to develop and implement mitigations that are appropriate to their specific environment and operations.”

The scope of the SMS mandate was first revealed in a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) in January 2023. The FAA received over 180 comments in response from a variety of operators, manufacturers and trade associations — including Helicopter Association International (now known as Vertical Aviation International/VAI).

One of the changes made from the NPRM in response to the comments was the exemption for operators where “a single pilot is the sole individual performing all necessary functions for the safe operation of the aircraft.”

New part 91.147 and part 135 operators will be required to have a statement of SMS compliance as part of their certification process.

“We have long supported the use of SMS programs as a means of improving safety throughout our industry,” said James Viola, VAI president and CEO, in a press release discussing the mandate.

“The FAA has not been alone in promoting SMS as a required safety program. The National Transportation Safety Board routinely included SMS in its list of most wanted improvements in transportation safety. Globally, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has recommended SMS mandates since 1997.”

VAI said it has a wealth of information available to help members navigate the new SMS requirements, including near-turnkey programs by four SMS industry leaders.

The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) said it “welcomes” the FAA’s final rule.

“SMS is a structured and proactive approach to managing safety, fostering a robust safety culture that positively impacts a company’s management, employees, products and services, and strengthens communication and the resolution of safety issues across all levels and disciplines of the company,” said GAMA president and CEO Pete Bunce in a statement issued following the mandate.

“We appreciate the FAA Aircraft Certification Service for working with manufacturers on the voluntary SMS program and applaud the FAA for issuing this final rule to further strengthen our aviation safety systems through SMS implementation and oversight. 

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