Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images
6. Improve Part 135 flight operations.

FAA Beats OSHA to the Punch as Safety Management Systems Take Flight

Jan. 9, 2015
The Federal Aviation Administration final rule requires safety management systems for airlines.

In an effort to reach the next level of safety, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on January 7 issued a final rule that requires most U.S. commercial airlines to have safety management systems (SMS) in place by 2018. The rule builds on the programs many airlines already use to identify and reduce aviation risk.

OSHA has been developing a worker-focused safety management system for years, the Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2) standard, and it remains on the agency’s regulatory agenda under the heading “long-term actions.” The FAA's adoption of a final rule got a jump-start when Congress passed the the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010, which mandated that the FAA develop a rule requiring all Part 121 operators to implement SMS.

SMS is the formal, top-down, organization-wide approach to managing safety risk and assuring the effectiveness of safety risk controls. According to FAA, SMS gives airlines a set of business processes and management tools to examine data gathered from everyday operations, isolate trends that may be precursors to incidents or accidents, take steps to mitigate the risk and verify the effectiveness of the program. SMS requires compliance with technical standards but also promotes a safety culture to improve the overall performance of the organization. It uses four key components: safety policy, safety risk management, safety assurance and safety promotion.

“Aviation is incredibly safe, but continued growth means that we must be proactive and smart about how we use safety data to detect and mitigate risk,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “SMS gives airlines the tools they need to further reduce risk in commercial aviation.”

The rule requires airlines to implement a safety management system within three years. They must submit their implementation plans to the FAA within six months. The rule also requires a single accountable executive to oversee SMS. An SMS defines what is expected rather than how the requirement is to be met. This allows each air carrier to design an SMS to match the size, complexity and business model of its organization. An SMS does not take the place of regular FAA oversight, inspection and audits to ensure compliance with regulations.

“Our commercial aviation industry is a world-leader and model for risk mitigation and I’m proud that so many airlines have embraced the SMS culture voluntarily. Now the FAA and the air carrier industry are taking the next step,” said FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta. “The FAA’s workforce also is transitioning to a proactive, risk-based culture so we can effectively target our resources.”

The aviation industry and federal government reduced the fatality risk in U.S. commercial air travel by 83 percent between 1998 and 2008. The industry and government now share a goal to reduce the U.S. commercial fatality risk by 50 percent from 2010 to 2025.

“Our members are fierce competitors, but we do not compete on safety because we know it is our most important job, and there is nothing more important than the safe arrival of our passengers, crew and cargo,” said A4A President and CEO Nicholas E. Calio. “That is why our members adopted this approach long before it became a rule; our work is a driving force as to why the U.S. industry is the model for the world in aviation safety.”

FAA estimates the rule will cost the airlines $224.3 million over 10 years ($135.1 million present value). The agency estimates the benefits will range from $205 million to $472.3 million over 10 years ($104.9 to $241.9 million present value). FAA is offering a federally developed and funded software system to help airlines implement SMS.

The final rule will be effective within 60 days from publication in the Federal Register.

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