FAA’S SNPRM on Airport SMS: The Good, Bad & the Ugly

faa snprm airport sms
Share this article: FacebooktwitterlinkedinFacebooktwitterlinkedin

FAA’s SNPRM on Airport SMS

The Good, Bad & the Ugly

Proposed regulation is always met with industry opposition. The FAA is faced with balancing comments in opposition to the new requirements while still upholding their mandate of ensuring safe air transportation. To strike an appropriate balance between these concerns, proposed changes need to maintain an acceptable level of safety. Of the changes proposed in this SNPRM, there are many good changes, several bad changes and two ugly changes. Our comments will focus on expanding on the good to reinforce safety and counterbalance the bad.

The following table captures SNPRM changes relative to the NPRM.

faa snprm airport sms


The Good

At this point, the most notable good thing about the FAA’s publication of the SNPRM last week is movement.  The FAA implementation of safety management systems for Part 139 airports has taken another long awaited step.

Positive safety or safety neutral changes proposed include:

  • Increases time to define implementation plans to 12 months for all
  • Increases time to define SMS Manual to 24 months for all
  • Reduces training requirement for employees with access to AOA to hazard and reporting awareness
  • Confirms recurrent training requirement as every other year
  • Clarifies training record requirement
  • Changes FAA acceptance to approval for SMS implementation
  • Changes FAA approval to acceptance for SMS Manual
  • Maintains inclusion of non-movement area
  • Modifies accountable executive definition
  • Clarifies data protection capabilities to developing and implementing SMS only
  • Exploring methods to create a national reporting database for voluntary reporting of SMS data
  • AIP funding eligibility outlined

The Bad

Unfortunately, there are several areas where the FAA took several steps back from the NPRM that cannot be characterized as safety neutral including:

  • Eliminating the SMS requirement for 276 certificated airports
  • Fails to identify benefit calculation methodology (benefits vary only 7% across alternatives whereas costs vary 65%)
  • Clarifying that there is no requirement to define or utilize risk matrix for non-5200.11 risk management
  • Modifying safety hazard identification to proactively identify safety issues (semantics and safety hazard language remains throughout the SNPRM and numerous other SMS guidance documents)

While the focus of this SNPRM is certificated airports, the intent of the language needs to be consistent with all other SMS implementation language.  No other implementation language applies to half the population governed by the regulation.  Air Traffic Organization SMS applies to all of air traffic


The Ugly

  • Increases passengers outside of SMS protections by a factor of 10
  • Removes SMS application of acceptable level of safety to the certificate holder
  • FAA fails to recognize that improved safety comes at a cost as is supported by reasonable unfunded mandate limits set by regulatory evaluation requirements

The FAA reported 799,319,620 commercial service airport enplanements in 2015.  The NPRM applied to 99.8% enplaned passengers (all but 1,598,639 passengers in 2015).  The SNPRM proposes application to 98% (all but 15,986,392 passengers in 2015).  The percentages look fine until you do the math.  The ten-fold increase of passengers that no longer are covered by a functioning safety management system is too many and departs too dramatically from previous Part 139 revision logic.

Since the last major revision to part 139, the FAA typically has applied technical requirements based on AOC class. Consistent with this past practice, the FAA first analyzed limiting applicability to Class I certificate holders. When reviewed as a whole, the 388 airports identified as holding a Class I AOC (as of October 2012) account for 99.7% of the total U.S. passenger enplanements as of the end of calendar year 2011. All certificated airports account for 99.8% of the total U.S. passenger enplanements, a difference of 0.1%. However, the list fails to account for many busy airports by total annual operations (not passenger enplanements), some of which receive more total annual operations than some Class I airports. Class I certificate holders also appear to include many smaller airports that support only domestic operations. For these reasons, the FAA does not believe that limiting applicability to Class I certificate holders alone is the best way to enhance safety through SMS.

The FAA mentions that Class I AOC’s account for 99.7% of the total US passenger enplanements and all certificated airports account for 99.8% of the total US passenger enplanements, a difference of 0.1%.  Then the FAA cites two reasons for departing from application by Class of AOC.  First, the list fails to account for many busy airports by total annual operations. Second, Class I certificate holders also appear to include many smaller airports that support only domestic operations.

It is true that Class of AOC fails to account for number of operations.  This has been true in previous revisions to Part 139 and will be true in future revisions.  But, Part 139 by definition applies to Airports with passenger carrying operations.  Regulation by class of AOC is consistent with the applicability of Part 139 because it applies only to commercial service airports by nature of type of passenger carrying operations at the airport.

ICAO Document 9859 3rd edition applies safety management provisions to States and service providers as defined below:

“The ICAO safety management SARPs provide the high-level requirements States must implement to fulfil their safety management responsibilities related to, or in direct support of, the safe operation of aircraft. These provisions are targeted to two audience groups: States and service providers. In the context of safety management, the term ― service provider‖ refers to any organization required to implement a safety management system (SMS) according to the ICAO SMS framework. Therefore, safety providers in this context include: a) approved training organizations that are exposed to safety risks during the provision of their services; b) aircraft and helicopter operators authorized to conduct international commercial air transport; c) approved maintenance organizations providing services to operators of aeroplanes or helicopters engaged in international commercial air transport; d) organizations responsible for type design and/or manufacture of aircraft; e) air traffic service providers; and f) operators of certified aerodromes.

The proposed applicability of the SNPRM by number of operations is inconsistent with the applicability of Part 139 to passenger carrying airport operations and fails to meet the targeted service provider requirement placed on operators of certified aerodromes by ICAO.

It is also true that many Class I certificate holders include smaller airports that support only domestic operations.  However, Part 139 guidance applies similarly to all passenger carrying categories of airports and does not distinguish between domestic or international passengers.  Introducing disparity between international and domestic passenger operations in inconsistent with Part 139 historic applicability to all passenger carrying operations, sends an inappropriate message to the public lessening the importance of domestic passenger safety protocol and fails to maintain the FAA standard as the gold standard in aviation safety.

The FAA’s analysis of regulatory evaluation requirements does not imply that the FAA’s recommendation to limit the applicability to Large, Medium, Small Hub Airports, International Airports and Airports with more than 100,000 operations was the only viable option based on regulatory evaluation requirements.  All but one of the options (All Airports with AOCs) demonstrated a positive net benefit and none of the options cost more than the $155 M annual unfunded mandate limitation.  The FAA estimates net cost for SMS implementation at all part 139 airports over ten years is $74,559,825.  In the 2004 Part 139 rulemaking, the benefit discussion was based on the cost of one accident and was estimated in the range of $63M to $100 M.  The benefit calculation in this SNPRM is not explained and varies only 3% when applied to 276 fewer airports.

Considering that SMS is the international standard safety management, the $74.5M investment is money well spent and the benefits easily justify the cost.

Share this article: FacebooktwitterlinkedinFacebooktwitterlinkedin

1 Comment on "FAA’S SNPRM on Airport SMS: The Good, Bad & the Ugly"

  1. Considering the commendable safety benefits which have already been garnered in the air carrier arena, this is a pittance of costs. Considering the FAA’s own trumpeting of those air passenger risk reductions, it is hard to comprehend why a compromised level of SMS standards should be applied to runways, tarmacs, terminals and throughout the airport layout.

    SMS is not just a standard, but a proactive process involving the regulator and all perspectives of the regulated. The process has moved the FAA’S horizon from reactive NPRMs to collaborative, individualized problem solving. That new atmosphere in the Part 121 regime, in particular, has changed the dynamic; no longer does enforcement define the conjunction between the FAA and the certificate holder, rather they meet in a dialogue of attacking the greatest risks together expeditiously and precisely in response to that entity’s most pressing issue.
    Part 139 should be part of the full SMS discipline. Any diminution of that rigorous data analytical tool diminishes the safety payback. AS NIKE WOULD SAY, JUST DO IT!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.