ARSA nails FAA on Paperwork Reduction Act problem in SMS, but…..

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ARSA Requests FAA Halt Unapproved Data Collection

February 01, 2018

Key SMS form does not have OMB paperwork OK

Data Collection Tool

Certificate holders likely to voluntarily Submit


Marshall FillerMarshall S. Filler, Managing Director & General Counsel of Aeronautical Repair Station Association, wrote a three page letter addressed to Ali Bahrami, Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety and Charles M. Trippe, Jr., Esq. Chief Counsel. This is not your average ordinary ARSA letter to the FAA; it is potentially a blockbuster which potentially could put the SMS mechanism on hold.




ARSA letter

The watchful eyes of the repair station staff noticed that Flight Standards Information Management System (FSIMS) requires that applicants for air carrier certificates and for Part 145 authority must  to complete the data collection tools (DCTs) associated with the agency’s Safety Assurance System (SAS).Before and after SMS, the FAA loves documentation and the DCT  represents a series of forms which align the certificate holder SMS system with the FAA SAS. Here is a copy of one header drawn from hundreds of them. To say that these electric forms are essential to the


FAA’s De rigueur safety system would be a gross understatement.

So, what is ARSA’s paperwork GOTCHA? Mr. Fuller cited the Paperwork Reduction Act, 44 U.S.C. § 3507(a), which requires that the FAA must obtain OMB permission to collect, under a requirement, information. FSIMS, even a non-lawyer can tell, is addressed to the FAA Field Organization, not the certificate holders. However, as the ARSA Managing Director and General Counsel points out, the DCT is a requirement for all certificate holders to receive or maintain their authority. It would appear that the PRA applies.

OMB flag

Marshall acknowledges the impact of his request to suspend the DCT requirement:

“We recognize that the agency has instituted the SAS to implement a risk-based approach to its safety oversight responsibilities. We also appreciate the fact that those efforts were directed not only by the FAA’s desire to “do more with less” but by legislation and in response to various audits and findings by the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office. However, those pressures do not relieve the agency of its obligations under other laws passed by Congress; particularly those that reduce the burdens on small businesses. While “major” air carriers are not small enterprises, many part 135 operators and the majority of 145 certificate holders do fall into that category.”


  1. Many, most certificate holders will VOLUNTARILY fill out the DCTs because SMS/SAS has produces significant reduction of risks. Incumbents already have created the systems and hired the staff to implement SMS.
  2. Applicants, who may see the DCT to be a burden, likely will recognize that the absence of voluntary submission will likely result in the FAA staff dedicated to their application going slower. Systems and staff are, in the long term, going to be required.
  3. Given the success of SMS/SAS and even the claim that the 2017 safety record could be attributed to the White House, the OMB Director will quickly find that the DCT is justified.

The ARSA complaint hit a raw nerve within the FAA, but after OMB approves the DCT, the eight FAA senior staffers, who were copied, will remember the source of this pain for a while.


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2 Comments on "ARSA nails FAA on Paperwork Reduction Act problem in SMS, but….."

  1. Richard Abbott | February 8, 2018 at 10:28 am | Reply

    Very interesting development.As a former FAA Aviation Safety Inspector who worked several years in the SASO Program Office (this office developed SAS), including a short stint as the SASO Program Manager, I am curious as to your statement in Consequence 3 “given the success of SMS/SAS.” I am not aware of any research that provides evidence that the 2017 safety record can be attributed to SMS or SAS.

    The SAS data collection tools are an evolution of the DCTs that were previously used by the Air Transportation Oversight System (ATOS.) In many cases these questions are subjective in nature and can be interpreted differently by both the certificate holder and the FAA safety inspector. The answer to the question could result in a different risk value due to this subjectivity.

    A good example of how data collection tools may not identify risks can be seen by revisiting the Alaska 261 accident in January of 2000 when the Alaska MD-83 crashed into the Pacific Ocean resulting in 88 fatalities. ATOS was in effect at this time and the data collection tools were used by the inspectors responsible for the oversight of Alaska Airlines. Only in hindsight (after the accident) were numerous systemic issues (going back decades) identified that contributed to the accident. ATOS (with its DCTs) did not identify these issues. SAS is, of course, an evolution of ATOS but the concept of DCTs remains the same in SAS.

    Current research shows that aviation accidents in the future (at least in the United States and other developed nations) are much more likely to happen when normal people are doing normal work. While risk analysis is important and valuable, it’s also critical to consider (and be aware of) the likelihood that due to the complexity of the aviation socio-technical system, risk identified and mitigated using the SAS Data Collection Tools, may not prevent what many call “Normal” accidents. I sincerely hope the OPM Director is able to justify the continued use of DCTs but I’m not sure the Director will be able to use the “success of SMS/SAS” to do this.

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful comment; well said from a insightful perspective.

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