Reducing Risk With SMS

FAA seeks best way to integrate Safety Management Systems at airports

CHICAGO — At the 24th Annual Great Lakes Region Airports Conference held here in November, FAA stressed the importance of safety management and announced that to promote a culture of safety in aviation, it will be internalizing safety management systems (SMS) throughout the agency. From air traffic control to runway safety, FAA says it is committed to the implementation of SMS internally and is now working to promote the progression to SMS at airports across the country.

There are various definitions to a safety management system (SMS), but all include the words structured and formalized. Management systems exist for almost everything and apply to almost anything, and FAA is urging airports to apply them to safety.

The advantages to implementing SMS are many, according to FAA, yet the challenges are many as well. It may seem overwhelming to assess and analyze each and every possible safety risk at an airport. But it’s by doing that research, and by standardizing a safety policy based on that research, that FAA says will help airports detect and correct safety problems before they result in incident, or even worse, accident.

This is the essence of SMS; elements which include safety policy, safety risk management (SRM), assurance, and promotion.

In a nutshell, policy defines the approach to managing safety; SRM describes the system, identifies hazards, and controls risk; assurance provides confidence in meeting or exceeding safety requirements; and promotion supports a culture of safety combined with training and data sharing in support of a safety management system.

It is based on the idea that an incident, or repeated incidents, can eventually lead to a catastrophic accident; an accident that could have been avoided had the proper considerations and precautions been put in place. SMS is an attempt to provide those precautions.

SMS in the U.S. began in 2005, when the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) amended policy requiring members to have certified international airports establish an SMS. According to the FAA website, “the FAA supports harmonization of international standards and has worked to make U.S. aviation safety regulations consistent with ICAO standards and recommended practices.”

FAA is currently considering the best way to introduce an SMS requirement to more that 560 U.S. airports certified under Part 139. An actual notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on SMS is not expected until 2010, but FAA is being proactive in introducing and demonstrating the value of SMS at airports.

Kari Spencer, SMS project manager for FAA’s airport safety and operations division, relates that “we are basically in the beginning phases of SMS in the airports industry.”
One of those first phases includes redefining what it means to be a Part 139 airport. The problem, says Spencer, is that in the U.S., airports certified under Part 139 vary greatly in class, size, and operation.

“We will have to amend 139; that’s a given,” says Spencer. “If we want to have a requirement for SMS, we can’t use just Part 139 certification to meet that requirement.”

Spencer also relates that FAA has funded the Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) to initiate two SMS-related projects. The first involves giving airport executives a high-level understanding of SMS.

“This is a great executive level read for your airport directors and airport operation managers just to dabble in SMS,” says Spencer.

The second project, which is currently ongoing, is to develop an SMS guidebook for airport operators. This resource is designed to guide airports who choose to implement an SMS before an actual SMS rule is dictated by FAA.

Pilot studies are another way FAA is conducting research to determine the appropriate level of guidance needed for airports to implement an SMS. The first study, completed in July of this year, involved 20 airports and three deliverables: gap analysis, draft program and implementation plan, and final program and implementation plan. Gap analysis is the identification of existing safety components compared with SMS program requirements. This helps airports draft an SMS implementation plan.

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