SMS is coming to airports after 11 years, it’s time to get ready

2016 and 2021 SNPRMs
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SMS proven safety enhancer for Aviation

11 years ago Foxx/Huerta proposed not FAAports head Shannetta Griffin to make it work

Best path to successful implementation- voluntary before mandatory!!!

Safety Management System, initiated for aviation by ICAO (article), has been or is being applied by the FAA (some by voluntary adoption) to  Air Carriers, Air Taxis, Air Tours (article), Maintenance under 121,manufacturers (Design Approval Holders, Suppliers, Production Certificate Holders, PMA, TC Holders Producing under TC),  Repair Stations, Non-Certificated Repair Facilities, Flight Schools, Simulator Facilities, etc. As the above Federal Register pages indicate, after 11 years of consideration, this state-of-the-art approach to reducing risk has yet to be applied to AIRPORTS under 14 CFR Part 139. The airport sector has expressed objections to application to their facilities in spite of the clear record that SMS has improved each sector’s performance.

Huerta, Foxx and Griffin

The Obama Administration, under the aviation leadership of Secretary Foxx and Administrator Huerta, put the SMS airport issue on the table.  Now, the Airports Division is under the leadership of President Biden’s/ Secretary Buttigieg’s appointee– Shannetta Griffin, P.E. as the Associate Administrator for Airports. An airport engineer with 35 years of experience in these facilities, Ms. Griffin is tasked to get airports to accept the SMS discipline.

It is fair to conclude that this change will be final. Some airports have already implemented this regimen. TRB’s Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) Synthesis 37: Lessons Learned from Airport Safety Management Systems Pilot Studies provides airport operators with data and experience from safety management system (SMS) pilot study airports. The report addresses SMS pilot study program management; SMS components design, development, and deployment; and SMS challenges and benefits.

In simple terms, SMS is a proactive business approach to managing and mitigating potential hazards within the organization to improve safety performance. SMS is comprised of four components (or pillars), including safety policy, safety risk management, safety assurance, and safety promotion.

sms chart for airports


The experience of other certificate holders in the transition from voluntary to mandatory provides some practical, useful insights:

 Experience with P135 and P145 pre-mandatory experiences show

   * Learning before required to comply  has been instructive to staff. Tried stuff without worries of FAA shade. Led to better structure, parameters, policies, practices, UNDERSTANDING of process value, etc.

   ** transition to permanent, mandatory status easier for airport staff and FAA ADO acceptance of exceptions to precise SMS advisory elementsActual practice helped prove value and relevance of unique SMS fit to your safety profile/ risk minimization needs.airport operational windows


Getting ready now for what reasonably appears to be inevitable makes IMMENSE SENSE.

The science, if not art, of implementing SMS at airports is an important bridge to successful creation of this safety discipline. Having the long, complicated manuals, showing fancy looking checklists and process flow charts and all of the accoutrements of SMS may well pass the test. The mean-time-between-overhaul of that set of papers is shorter than an untested new material ultrahigh pressure blade. To succeed, all levels of the airport’s organization need to participate in the initial Safety Risk Management (SRM), Airport Safety Risk Assessment (SRA), Safety Risk Management Document (SRMD) and Safety Management System (SMS) processes.

windows of airport safety issues

These critical building blocks to an airport SMS regiment that works benefits from Subject Matter Experts who have lead other FAA certificate holders through this initiation, who have taught the subject to foreign airport officials and who have insights into what works. These consultants’ credibility will enhance the likelihood that everyone at the airport—

airport peoplefrom the teams that keep FOD off the runways,

to those who plan where the next high speed taxiway should be built,

to the operations group focusing on all dimensions of the facility,

to those who hire the professionals who occupy these positions

 to the airport director


 to, most importantly, those who govern the airport.

If they don’t buy into SMS and are not committed to its safety risk reduction, the process will only be window dressing.  These experts are ready to help.

window dressing









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