Reducing Risk With SMS

FAA seeks best way to integrate Safety Management Systems at airports

FAA realized early, says Spencer, that the first program was top heavy with large-scale class 1 airports. Because the impact of SMS on smaller-scale airports is expected to be “huge,” as Spencer puts it, a second pilot study was initiated which includes eight airports of varying size and complexity. The final report on the second study will be available soon, says Spencer.

A follow-up pilot study was initiated recently and includes one large, one medium-sized airport, and one small airport. The airports chosen for the study were Sea-Tac Airport, South Bend Regional Airport, and Concord Regional Airport in North Carolina. The duration of the study involves one year of monthly reporting on SMS proving elements: safety policy, SRM, and safety assurance.

Spencer relates that the study is structured so that those three pilot airports are not only proving that an SMS works for their airport, but also for airports of similar size and operation.

“The reason why we are only looking at those three areas is when you look at Airport Improvement Program (AIP) eligibility, yes we can fund things under pilot-type studies, but we have to start funding things under safety promotion because AIP eligibility does not extend to training; and many of the elements in your safety policy area would not be eligible items,” says Spencer.

All of the airports participating in the pilot studies are eligible for AIP planning grants to cover the cost of developing an initial SMS, according to FAA’s website.

Safety Management Systems can also be very effective in reducing the risk of runway incursions, explains Steven Smith of FAA’s Runway Safety Office.

From a policy perspective, says Smith, FAA is currently going through the final throes of putting in a new runway safety order. The order includes an updated blueprint, which Smith says is a strategic outline for what FAA plans to do regarding integrating an SMS.

“Internally, we are getting our safety policy up-to-date; our last order is five or six years old and our last blueprint was a 2003-2004 blueprint,” says Smith. “We have come along way since then and we are updating what we’re going to be doing in the near future.”

From a promotional standpoint, which includes training, standardization, and data analysis, FAA is moving to a standard RSAT program, or runway safety action team. RSATs come up with safety action plans which identify risks and hazards on their particular airport. This information is meant to be shared with airports of similar size and configuration by making it readily available online.

“In today’s Runway Safety Office, we don’t share [RSAT] information between regions,” says Smith. “We need that interchange of information, and airports need that information as well.”

Smith relates that it’s an easy way to share specific information about a particular airport configuration in order to help other airports with similar configurations identify their risks.

The root cause analysis team, which Smith has become chair of, is part of the SRM process which investigates runway incursions. The team will not specifically look for blame regarding the incursion, but is more interested in investigating the conditions which led to the incident. The team consists of an investigative effort between the three groups which typically get involved when an incursion takes place: air traffic control (operational error), airport (vehicle or pedestrian deviation), or flight standards (pilot deviation). The collaborative effort between these groups is expected to supply valuable information that could be lost when a particular group directs blame at another.

FAA has also recently convened the Runway Safety Council, a senior executive group responsible for taking a systematic approach to improving runway safety. According to FAA’s website, the goal of the council is to fundamentally change the existing safety culture and move toward a proactive management strategy that involves various segments of the aviation industry. The root cause analysis team will recommend to the runway safety council ways to resolve or mitigate system risks.

“The Runway Safety Council is going to be another piece of an SMS-like process to be able to use safety risk management to reduce the number of runway incursions,” says Smith.

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