AAAE Cites Cost and Timing Concerns With FAA Safety Management System Proposal

A draft proposal by the Federal Aviation Administration requiring certificated airports to implement Safety Management Systems (SMS) would burden airports with significant, unfunded mandates and impose unrealistic deadlines, according to comments filed by the American Association of Airport Executives. AAAE has requested that the agency file a supplemental draft rule that addresses concerns raised by airports and the association.

In its comments, AAAE made clear that while the association and its members support implementing measures to improve airport safety, the draft rule -- "Safety Management Systems for Certificated Airports" -- includes several counter-productive provisions. The association noted that the proposed rule would impose high costs on airports without indentifying a funding source for the new program. AAAE cited the example of one large hub where implementation of the FAA's proposed SMS would cost $400,000 at the outset and then $500,000 per year in staffing and implementation for the airport and its tenants-costs that airports can't afford to assume in the current economic climate.

Additionally, AAAE highlighted the burden that the proposed SMS rule would have on smaller airports, many of which lack necessary staff resources to undertake additional requirements. Proposed requirements, including managing hazard documentation, analysis, mitigation and tracking, would most likely fall to airport managers to handle on top of existing duties, adding to an already difficult and complicated environment at smaller facilities.

AAAE also noted that the proposed rule's inclusion of non-movement areas is a significant expansion of Part 139's scope. Airport non-movement areas include many tenant-controlled facilities, such as fuel farms, fixed-base operators and baggage handling areas. Under the draft rule, the airport would have to control these users to ensure compliance with SMS. AAAE does not support mandatory implementation of SMS in non-movement areas because of this unprecedented expansion of FAA's regulatory scope.

Airport executives also believe that any SMS rulemaking should include a phased implementation. Others with experience in SMS programs, including the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), recommend phased implementation for SMS components and elements. AAAE is concerned that the draft rule's proposed six-month implementation for smaller airports and nine-month implementation for the largest airports is overly aggressive to achieve the desired results.

AAAE stated that a final rule should not be issued until Congress completes action on liability protection for the accountable executive and data/recordkeeping protection provisions--both of which the association is working to include in pending FAA reauthorization legislation.

"AAAE reiterates our support for implementing measures to improve airport safety standards. However, SMS is a program the industry can't afford to rush and implement the wrong way," AAAE Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Melissa Sabatine said. "Given the concerns expressed by our members, we urge FAA to consider developing a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would address these issues and offer alternative implementation timelines. We would like to work with the FAA as closely as possible on a reasonable timeframe to ensure that implementation is done in an effective, cost-conscious manner, achieving the intended goal of continuous safety at our nation's airports."