FAA issues NPRM to expand SMS mandate

Avatar for Oliver JohnsonBy Oliver Johnson | January 11, 2023

Estimated reading time 3 minutes, 26 seconds.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has finally proposed a long-anticipated rule to mandate the use of safety management systems (SMS) by charter, commuter and air tour operators.

Commercial passenger-carrying operations are often flown in light single-engine aircraft. Mike Reyno Photo
The proposed rule would give operators one or two years to comply, the FAA said. Mike Reyno Photo

The use of SMS — a formal, organization-wide approach to managing safety risk and assuring the effectiveness of safety risk controls — is currently on a voluntary basis by part 135 operators, while part 121 commercial airlines have been required to have one in place since 2018.

An SMS requires four essential components: safety policy, safety risk management, safety assurance, and safety promotion. It also requires an organization to document the system itself and maintain any records the system produces.

“Expanding safety management systems to other players in the aviation industry will reduce accidents and incidents and save lives,” said Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen. “As safe and efficient as our system is today, we must always strive to achieve the next level of safety.”

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has long petitioned the FAA to implement such a rule, first recommending it in 2016. In its recent report on the fatal crash of and Airbus AS350 B2 in Hawaii in 2019, the NTSB said the FAA’s failure to implement its recommendations contributed to the cause of the crash.

“When the NTSB issues safety recommendations, they are data-driven, supported by factual evidence developed from investigations, and are carefully crafted to prevent accidents,” said NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy in a press release announcing the report on the Hawaii crash last May. “The NTSB previously made 11 recommendations to the FAA to prevent accidents like this one, but our recommendations only work when they are implemented. It’s time for the FAA to act.”

The FAA said the proposed 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.

Compliance times would vary between one and two years after the rule takes effect, depending on the operation, the FAA said.

Comments on the proposed rule must be received by the FAA on or before March 13, 2023.

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