Safety Bureaucrats

You all probably missed this but it will impact the whole business of aviation in the very near future. What is it? Well, it is a proposed new safety program called the Safety Management System (SMS).

As if we don’t have enough safety paperwork programs to burden our beleaguered industry, it looks like the paper-pushers at 800 Independence are now in the process of proposing a new one. They have published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking that we all know is the prelude to another rule making requiring something to be done.

It all started with the International Civil Aircraft Organization (ICAO) ginning up a broad mandate requiring all the members of the organization to establish a safety management system. The ICAO people say they require that member states establish such a safety management system by November of 2010. (And to think the member states pay to belong to this club!).Where does ICAO, a high class international social organization of sorts, get off demanding that huge sums of money be spent unnecessarily on such a safety management system? Why don’t the members object to this nonsense? And why does our FAA seem hell bent on following their lead down another rocky road of so-called aviation safety? To its credit, the FAA has filed a sort of objection called a “difference” or statement of noncompliance … whatever that means, while it works on a new safety rule. Why should it work on anything that ICAO requires? As far as I can determine ICAO merely suggests things to its members, it has no statutory authority.

Suffice it to say that our FAA is busy at work proposing to follow ICAO’s so-called mandate, (I don’t believe it’s even mandatory for the members as ICAO suggests) … notwithstanding the fact that we (FAA) already have numerous safety management systems already in place within our industry. Some are voluntary and some mandatory and some are private activities.

Not to be outdone by the foreign interests, our FAA will be busy following their lead so as not to be left out of this bureaucratic exercise, producing more paperwork, probably with a need for more inspectors to supervise this activity. We all know they don’t have the ability to supervise all the programs they already have and they admit it! We will need more front line inspectors to supervise and audit any new safety system and we don’t have enough to do the job now. No hiring is being done in the inspector area.

Now understand, this new safety system will be no small effort. If implemented by our busy FAA office of Aviation Safety, the detail and management labor will be substantial and necessitate a whole new internal effort on the part of not only FAR 121, 135, 125, and 91.1001 air carriers, but will include other certificate holders like FAR 141, 142, and 145 operations. In addition, others included are OEM aviation product manufacturers, applicants and employers, and product or service providers. Just about everybody in the game!

I don’t believe the mandate of the ICAO should extend to and include such product and service providers in our industry. These people have enough to do just keeping up with the existing FAA requirements. This is an aircraft club not some international type of FAA … or maybe that’s the point? EASA (European FAA for those in Rio Linda) is bad enough as it continues to grow in staff, regulations, and influence around the world. I have long predicted that EASA would take over our own FAA sometime or other. I may have to substitute ICAO in its place. If you want to see what ICAO is about Google it.

The new SMS
ICAO’s definition of SMS is: “A systematic approach to managing safety, including the necessary organizational structures, accountabilities, policies, and procedures.” — ICAO Safety

Management Manual
FAA goes on to say that an SMS provides a set of decision-making processes and procedures that a product/service provider would use to plan, organize, direct, and control its business activities in a manner that enhances safety and ensures compliance with regulatory standards.

Does this sound remotely familiar to you? Is this not what all the safety programs we already have in place are supposed to do? Do we need more?

Sure, Continuous Analysis and Surveillance (CAS) FAR 121.343 applies only to air carriers. Other organizations also have their own safety and quality control programs that do the same thing. Ensuring safety and quality in product or process is standard procedure in our industry. The whole CAS concept and system can easily be adapted directly to other activities and or processes. Why start a whole new system?

If Bill O’Brien were still alive I am certain he would agree with most of my thoughts above. He believed in smaller is better and the fewer regulatory mandates the better. Let private enterprise do the job of supervising their safety culture. There are enough mandates out there to supply and structure such systems without adding more. And yes, who is going to organize and manage this huge effort? It is interesting that ICAO simply passes the job on to the member states, European authorities, and our own FAA. Just like ICAO’s Stage 3 noise standards which were passed on to the UK and other EU states to create and supervise.

Safety data management and collection programs
FAA already has numerous safety management programs in effect that it cannot effectively manage now. How can it add another system and expect to manage it? Will it turn out to be another pile of data collected to simply collect with the rest?

Only one of these safety programs is required by regulation … that is the Continuous Analysis and Surveillance (CAS) program under FAR 121.373 and its Part 135 companion FAR 135.431. As I have stated in the past on numerous occasions, one can only wonder what happens to all the data and required reports collected under this program and whether or not anybody at the FAA or the air carrier even looks at it and analyses it?

Questions have even been raised about whether or not the program is even effective. The Valujet, Alaska Airlines, and Chalks accident cases come to mind. Add the recent problems at Southwest and American and you see the trend.

Air Transportation Oversight System (ATOS) is designed to be sort of like a CAS system in that it is a continuous but broader program designed to detect weakness and predict an accident before it happens. This is also what CAS is supposed to do but has failed in too many cases. ATOS uses a systemic approach by attempting to evaluate all the elements of an air carriers operating environment and it is supposed to ensure that all the elements have safety built into their operating systems. (Sound familiar?)

Flight Operational Quality Assurance (FOQA) is a far-reaching attempt by the FAA to capture flight data and other operational information. Although there are many concerns raised over the collection and use of such data by flight crew personnel. This is a voluntary participation at this time.

Aviation Safety Action Parnership (ASAP) is another voluntary safety data sharing program that has been around for some time also. It shares the same concerns about the use of raw data without adequate protections from disclosure.

In order to be effective CAS FAR 121.343 needs to be expanded and SMS may be an alternative method to do the job. The NTSB, reviewing noteworthy accidents, has so stated and added that CAS is a one size fits all rule that needs to be changed. The Board said that the FAA should move away from the one size language and focus on a program that will aggressively uncover and address any structural and or other continuing airworthiness issues. (New SMS?)

A vigorous maintenance tracking process must be included in any overall quality control system. The Board cited insufficient FAA oversight. It suggested that principal maintenance inspectors should be more involved in the process and join in the overall analysis of discrepancies, maintenance, and inspection functions. The Board has clearly argued for more oversight. Just where are the inspectors going to come from when and if a completely new safety management system comes on line?

FAA recently published Notice N8900.7, Revision Order 8300-10, Vol. 2, Chap. 65 and Vol. 3, Chap. 37.”Monitor Continuous Analysis and Surveillance program/revisions which is designed to address some of the oversight failures on the part of inspectors. The changes were designed to focus more attention on continuous assessment of the CAS system, which needs to be expanded. A new SMS?

The answer?
Some in the industry might suggest that all of the above mentioned safety management systems be scrapped at once and integrated into one huge safety management system. Would this be a convenient solution? Or maybe we should forget about a new SMS and simply substitute all of the present systems as one group and call it the safety management system?

There is no point in starting a whole new system without scrapping all the present marginal safety systems that have been haphazardly imposed on the industry.

Federal Register Vol. 74 No. 140
FAA addresses this proposed SMS in the above captioned Federal Register.

It is asking for your comments regarding a new SMS and for input on a specific number of questions outlined in the proposed rule text.

In particular, the FAA asks for your opinion, among others, on how all of the above mentioned safety systems can be integrated into a broader SMS and thus avoid duplication. Duplication in my opinion might be avoided by simply getting rid of the old and starting with a newly designed system.

A new rule making committee (ARAC) will make recommendations regarding this new SMS. If interested in objecting to or supporting this process you should join the rule making committee and/or put in your opinions on the matter.

Go to and follow the instructions for sending your comments on this subject via email. You can also fax to (202) 493-2251. Re: Docket #2009-0671.
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Stephen P. Prentice is an attorney whose practice involves FAA-NTSB issues. He has an Airframe and Powerplant certificate, is an ATP rated pilot, and is a USAF veteran. E-mail: