April 13, 2021

In a recent letter to the FAA, NBAA voiced its concerns about a rulemaking effort underway that would require Part 135 operators to develop and implement a safety management system (SMS), saying it could be disruptive to existing safety measures already in place.

NBAA’s Part 135 Issues Subcommittee of the Domestic Operations Committee drafted the letter to proactively communicate support for SMS overall, and explain concerns with how the rule might impact some operations.

“Part 5 of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations defines the basic components of a complete safety management system and the regulatory requirements for acceptance,” the letter states. “NBAA supports the core framework of SMS for business aviation operators; however, we remain concerned with support for existing safety cultures, scalability and oversight.”

“The subcommittee’s core concern is that new regulatory requirements will actually disrupt existing positive safety cultures,” said Michael McCullough of Aviation Resource Management, Inc. “Many Part 135 companies are already operating with an SMS. If regulations are too prescriptive, they won’t be scalable and won’t be tailored to a specific organization.”

Further, McCullough explained a good SMS encompasses all personnel in an organization. Obviously, some departments – for example, accounting functions – are not under FAA jurisdiction. This leads to obvious questions about how the FAA oversees SMS processes in departments outside of the agency’s scope.

Operators also expressed concerns for privacy and confidentiality, insisting the FAA have appropriate protections in place to ensure safety data is used in meaningful ways to improve safety and not to seek retribution or punishment.

“Over the last two decades, the Part 135 community has created and implemented many SMS best practices that are currently integrated into each company’s culture,” the letter continues. “A mechanism to verify an operator’s existing program would be part of an ideal solution, especially if the program has already been audited under IS-BAO [International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations] or a similar standard. Lastly, oversight should be sensitive to the breadth and impact of robust SMS programs.”

An Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC), completed more than a decade ago, highlighted some of these same concerns regarding SMS for smaller businesses.

“We hope the FAA will open a dialogue about these and other concerns with the industry prior to issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,” said Brian Koester, CAM, NBAA’s director of flight operations and regulations. “While the previous SMS ARC identified scalability, privacy and confidentiality, and flexibility as areas of concern, working with the industry in a new rulemaking effort would go along way to community acceptance of a new SMS mandate.”

Read the full letter to the FAA. (PDF)