FAA: Commercial Airlines Must Have Safety Management Systems (SMS) in Place by 2018
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FAA: Commercial Airlines Must Have Safety Management Systems (SMS) in Place by 2018

January 9, 2015

In an effort to make commercial air travel even safer, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a final rule this week that requires most U.S. commercial airlines to have Safety Management Systems (SMS) in place by 2018.

The FAA says that the rule, which was mandated by the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010, builds on programs that many airlines already use to identify and reduce aviation risk.

In a press release, the FAA describes SMS as an organization-wide approach to managing safety risk and assuring the effectiveness of safety risk controls. SMS, the agency says, 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.

The FAA says that SMS requires compliance with technical standards but also promotes a safety culture to improve the overall performance of every U.S. airline. 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 agency points out that since an SMS defines "what" is expected rather than "how" the requirement is to be met, each air carrier can custom-design an SMS to match its size, complexity and business model. 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."

According to the FAA, 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.

The FAA estimates that the rule will cost airlines $224.3 million over 10 years, with the benefits ranging from $205 million to $472.3 million over the same period. The FAA is offering a federally developed and funded software system to help airlines implement SMS. The system will cost the FAA $2.6 million per year to maintain.

The final rule will be effective within 60 days from publication in the Federal Register. More information is available at FAA.gov and on the FAA's SMS Office website.