What to Know About Part 139 SMS for Airports

April 6, 2023
Come Monday, April 24, the Safety Management Systems (SMS) for Part 139 Certificated Airports will be published as a final rule, here's what airports need to know.
Ab Logo Blue Web

Come Monday, April 24, the Safety Management Systems (SMS) for Part 139 Certificated Airports will be published as a final rule, here's what airports need to know.

Understanding the rule 

FAA Director of the Office of Airport Safety and Standards for the Office of Airports John Dermody said SMS for Part 139 allows for the move to a performance-based safety management system, which will best address safety at an organizational level.  

“This rule is applicable to more than 200 of America's busiest commercial airports,” Dermody said. “This rule is also important because it will now align the United States with the current ACAO Standards and Recommended Practices, the SARPs.” 

Part139 is broken down into subparts A, B, C, D, and now the rule adds subpart E. Subpart E can be broken down into three categories: 401, 402 and 403.  

Section 401 addresses 401 applicability, identifies the types of airports that may be eligible for a wavier from the SMS requirements, notes the scope of SMS, defines SMS documentation requirements, and permits the use of data sharing and reporting plans to avoid duplicative SMS programs.  

FAA Program Analyst for the Office of Airports Jim Schroeder said it boils down to these three triggers, “You have to be a 139-certificate holder in order for the rule to be required for you. Now, anyone can implement SMS, but for it to be a requirement you need to be a 139-certificate holder. Two, be classified as a hub or have an average of 100,000 more operations per year in the three previous years or three running years or have a third trigger of international operations basically other than GA traffic. Throughout the rule we refer to them as the hub trigger, the 100,000 ops trigger, and the international trigger.” 

Section 402 defines the four components of the Part 139 SMS and identifies the minimum requirements of each SMS component composition:  

  1. Safety policy 

  2. Safety risk management 

  3. Safety assurance 

  4. Safety promotion  

Regarding 402, Schroeder said, “At a minimum, these processes and procedures must provide a means for monitoring the safety performance and ensuring that the objectives identified … are being met, the mitigations. Two, establish and maintain a safety reporting system so that we could have a just culture that you don't blame the reporter for reporting something. In other words, it's done anonymously, or it's done in confidence so that there is no repercussions where we punish the messenger. The reporting system is important, and the data should be reported regularly to the accountable executive.” 

Section 403 identifies milestones for documentation and implementation, defines the implementation plan contents and requires submission of an updated ACM and/or SMS manual.  

Timeline to Submit 

Per 403, each certificate holder required to implement an SMS must submit its either amended ACM or its standalone SMS manual in accordance with the implementation plan no later than 12 months after the FAA has approved the implementation plan.  

“On Monday, April 24, the rule takes effect and those with respective triggers of a of hub, 100K, or international will have 12, 18, or 24 months maximum to submit an implementation plan,” Schroeder said. “And … as far as timeline goes for all new qualifiers, those joining after April this day, they will all universally get 18 months to submit this.” 

FAA’s Associate Administrator for the Office of Airports Shannetta Griffin said the new rule represents more than 10 years of study, research, and improvements to evolve airport safety into the safety management system model.  

“This final rule compliments the existing Part 139 rule, along with our internal SMS processes for airport planning and development to deliver a comprehensive risk management approach to airport safety,” Griffin said. “With this SMS rule now complete, the Office of Airport adds one of the critical remaining pieces to the FAA's agency level state safety program. SMS practices and the safety benefits they provide can now be found in the flight deck, air traffic control, and airport operations environments.” 

What airports need to know 

Griffin said airports will have access to financial assistance for the development of an SMS manual, implementation plan and the procurement of SMS software.  

“Please reach out to your local airport's district office or your regional office to discuss,” Griffin said. 

Griffin also said the FAA is still working on training their workforce.  

“We intend to roll out two more initial training classes to our certification safety inspectors and there'll be more training ahead,” Griffin said. “The one thing that you expect and the one thing that we expect is that we will have consistency in this program from coast to coast and the training is essential, and we have listened to various different states on their implementation of their SMS programs, and we have developed lessons learned and identified some gaps that we're ensuring are taken care of in our training.” 

Impact on Airports 

Griffin said the FAA is optimistic that SMS will improve communication issues between airports and airlines.  

“An area that we see on airports that has the most incidents and accidents … while I can say that we have not identified any specific gaps, what I can say is there's potential gaps in communication … there's potential gaps in mitigation strategies that are not put in place because we don't have this rule that will connect the airlines to the airports,” Griffin said. “So, we're super excited with that. While SMS is new for the external rule, the internal SMS program that we've had in the office of airports since 2010 is not new. And so, we have used this rule and SMS principles in our planning, in our development and we have enhanced construction on airports due to the SMS oversight. Internally, we found it successful. Externally from our airport, operators have recognized how SMS increases safety.” 

What if my airport already has an SMS in place? 

“’Do I still have to submit an implementation plan?’ Yes … an implementation plan is your plan on how you meet the requirements,” Schroeder said. “So, prior to April 24, there is no requirement. If you're already executing SMS or a variation thereof, have a formal means of your safety management system in place, describe the processes, include the processes that you already use and how you meet the current requirements and in executing that. And it could be that your timeline for a maximum of four or five years will be shortened considerably upon review of your implementation plan.” 

Where is the FAA getting the information they use to decide on these SMS triggers? 

FAA Office of Airports Great Lakes Region Kenneth Taira said the triggers used to identify the airports for the SMS requirement the large, medium and small bubs, 100,000 average operations and international airports.  

“We plan to collect and update this data annually. Typically, it'll be at the end of the calendar year,” Taira said. “Airport status changes and essentially the triggers don't become effective until the Office of Airports publishes this list. The Office of Airport Safety and Standards branch is responsible for conducting the data analysis and identifying SMS requirements. We'll go through each individual trigger. We're talking about large, medium, and small hub airports are determined using employment data from the Air Carrier Activity Information Service or ACAIS. We want to make the distinction here. Non-hubs are not included in the criteria for the new rule. Airport hubs are identified using the criteria in FAA order 5138, which is also known as the AIP handbook. Help status has been provided on our certification status list for many years in the past, and this won't change under the new rule. Calculation of the 100,000 average annual operations uses two sources. First, the FAA operations network, which is our official source of air traffic operations, is used for towered airports. FAA's airport data information portal is used for non-tower airport operations.” 

Is my airport eligible to submit a waiver? 

Airports who fall under the third trigger (international) in part 401 may be eligible to submit a waiver.  

“If you qualify exclusively under that third trigger, the international trigger, you are eligible to apply from the requirements of having to implement SMS. And the requirements for meeting that are to obtain the waiver for their certificate holder,” Schroeder said. “The certificate holder must submit their written request to the regional divisional manager justifying its request. And then after review, if the FAA grants the certificate holder's request for the waiver, the certificate holder is now... The requirements are waived for two years. So, at the end of two years, or as the end of two years approaches, the certificate holder must reapply and reverify that it's still eligible for the waiver as defined in 401A1.” 

SMS roles 

“The role of the FAA is going to be largely facilitative with providing oversight. So, we may provide input to an airport's SMS development along with all of our obligatory approving and accepting the required portions of the SMS, but we're only going to make sure that they comply with the part,” Taira said. “… Subpart E is a completely different way of thinking for the certain inspectors, for the FAA in general, and for you as certificate holders. And so, we're going to be less prescriptive … about putting absolutes in there and letting the airports design basically their own compliance program. The SMS manual won't absolve you from complying with subpart D of the rule, but it'll certainly give you a lot more flexibility to manage your compliance program more effectively.” 

  • Role of the certificate holder: Implement and operate their airport’s SMS. 

  • Role of the ACSI: Oversee SMS rule compliance, approval/acceptance of documentation and liaison for airport questions.  

  • Role of ARP Regional SMS Coordinators: Manage the ARP SMS for planning and development; regional points of contact for SMS questions.  

  • Role of ADO: Point of contact for federal funding eligibility and projects related to the SMS rule.  

  • Role of AAS-300/310: Manages the internal and external SMS programs, provides guidance, promotes the programs.  

Schroeder said any airport is encouraged to implement SMS, whether you're a 139 airport or not. 

“Life would be great if every airport had a formal safety management system implemented,” Schroeder said. “However, the rule only requires certain airports to do this, but we encourage all airports, whether you get a waiver or not, whether you're 139 or not, to please consider implementing a formal process for evaluating your hazards and communicating safety information.”