Good reasons for SMS to arrive at AIRPORTS- more passengers are coming and more advantages

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Understanding safety procedures is critical as passenger numbers increase

Passenger Increase is a reason

Inculcating Safety Culture another

Airports’ multiple functions can be integrated and managed by SMS



Gordon Griffiths, a seasoned airport executive, makes a strong case for airports to adopt Safety Management Systems either on their volition or through government mandate; he says

“The predicted growth of worldwide passenger handling is expected to double from three and a half billion to over seven billion over the next decade or so and this increase will create a need for airport safety operations to be meticulously monitored and addressed. A steady growth in passenger figures and aircraft movement should not be matched with safety incidents running in parallel.

The responsibility and authority to accomplish many of the required airport safety management system (A-SMS) functions allows responsibility to be delegated, however, A-SMS is very specific when it comes to accountability, this clearly lies with the CEO, COO, or Board Member.

The objective of an A-SMS is to provide a systematic approach to risk management in operations and providing the organisational framework to support its safety culture.”

In November 2005, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) amended Annex 14, Volume I (Aerodrome Design and Operations) to require member states to have certificated international airports establish an SMS. Five years later, the FAA issued an NPRM and then in 2016 a SNPRM. To verify that SMS would work for airports, 20 sponsors were given grants in 2010 and the FAA issued findings and then a report ( 86 pages) and made the following observations:

Workload Impact: Pilot Study airports found the workload impact of SMS-related elements manageable. Although unable to make staffing changes, many airports were still able to reasonably accommodate development of SMS guidance and implementation.

Gap Analysis: The airport operators found the Gap Analysis useful. It enabled the airport operators to identify those requirements of SMS that are not part of 14 CFR 139 compliance activities and showed them that many 14 CFR 139 activities (such as daily self-inspection, airport emergency plans, and notifications) can serve as a foundation for the components and elements of SMS.

Benefits: Overall, airport operators benefitted from improved communication and increased safety awareness.

SMS Guidance: In general, airport operators found the guidance was sufficient. They suggested we further clarify areas such as SMS development, support tools, and templates.

The FAA initiated a second study in July 2008, w to gather information on scalability and how smaller airports might implement SMS. This time, the FAA made 8 comments, all of which were relatively positive. The ICAO 2005 mandate is well overdue and the benefits of the two airport tests and the Part 121 positive results suggest that the time to issue a final rule maybe soon.








Here are some examples of important areas for SMS attention:

  1. SMS and/or Safety Culture is a 3600 degree, all-inclusive exercise. Orders from the Sponsor’s Board or Executive Director is not the sine qua none of this discipline. The top must be involved, but every member of the organization from the men/woman (i) who maintain the terminals; to(ii) the operations staff who assure that snow is removed, that the lights are working, and the runways are clear of FOD; (iii) to those who hire employees, who work with the community, who manage the budget, who buy equipment and materials, (iv) to include participants in the airport function, but do not work for the airport—pilots, air traffic controllers, passenger representative (including handicapped expert) , airline passenger and ground personnel, vendors, general/business aviation (FBOs, pilots, tenants,) etc. All must share the commitment every day at work and are willing to call out what they perceive as a risk.


  1. Airports, by their multiple functions, will derive a high level of risk reduction from SMS’s quantitative, systematic and prioritized process.a. Passenger handling: customers flow into and through the terminal incurring both safety and security risks. The Safety Culture will empower all airport staff to identify these risks. The data will provide a basis to address these potential points of injury and terrorism in a manner UNIQUE to the individual facilities.

a. An area rarely seen, but one holding risk for airport/airline personnel and from a security standpoint—the baggage and ramp operations areas. The SMS decisional process will incorporate these problems with the same intense scrutiny as well as put them in a continuum with other risks. Without SMS these risks might be overlooked.





b.Runways and taxiways where the aircraft operate full of passengers pose a fertile region for risk reduction. Difficult turns, areas prone to incursions, pavement in need of attention, snow removal (see above picture), poorly located signs, signage not set for pilot sight lines, confusing designations of runways and taxiways are possible targets for attention. It will be interesting to incorporate consistent pilot input given their transient work schedule.







3. SMS as being applied by the FAA has shown two important trends:

a.Substituting adversary relations between the regulator and the regulated for b. Another useful collateral benefit of SMS has been the focusing on the special characteristics of the certificate holder. The FAA is exposed to the primary safety risks, participates in the decision process to address the greatest risks and invests in the solution. Part 139 is written to regulate every certificated airport and consequently, an airport in Florida must take the time to write a snow removal plan. SMS moves from standardization and moves towards more justified individuation.



SMS is not a panacea, but it tends to involve all levels of the enterprise in its goals. That, in and of itself, has a beneficial effect. There are arguments that the process becomes a burden, but the first FAA airport SMS test determined that the existing staff was able to handle the tasks without neglecting their assigned work. Some have expressed other concerns, but those doubts are not universally held.

It would appear timely, as the expected passenger demand increases, for the FAA, at a minimum, to encourage further voluntary participation and hopefully close on this long pending docket.



























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