Jan. 30, 2023

Two weeks after the FAA released a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for new, mandatory (SMS) standards, a panel of industry veterans gathered at NBAA’s 2023 Schedulers & Dispatchers Conference (SDC023) to offer an initial assessment about the proposal, which would reach far beyond the airlines into many business aviation operations.

Specifically, the FAA’s NPRM, made public on Jan. 10, aims to expand the SMS applicability contained in 14 CFR Part 5 to some Part 21 type certificate and production certificate holders, Part 135 charter operators and air tour operations conducted under Part 91.147.

Review the FAA’s SMS NPRM, Docket No. FAA-2021-0419 (PDF)

NBAA has continually provided guidance to the FAA as agency officials have developed the SMS proposal. Above all, NBAA has emphasized a critical guiding principle: for any SMS to be truly effective, it must be tailored to the size and complexity of the operation.

“Aviation stakeholders that have adopted SMS programs voluntarily have successfully illustrated the concept that SMS should be designed to fit each operation specifically,” said NBAA Director, Safety and Flight Operations Mark Larsen, CAM.

NBAA Senior Vice President, Safety, Security, Sustainability and International Operations Doug Carr agreed. “The expanded rule needs to be scalable across the spectrum – from a mom-and-pop outfit with one aircraft, to large companies with multiple business jets.”


Panelists at the SDC2023 session expressed concern that the SMS NPRM would apply to hundreds of single pilot/single owner Part 135 operators and entail significant potential impacts in both money and time. Overall, the FAA estimates the total cost of expanding SMS rules would amount to $51.3 million annually and impact approximately 2,600 operators.

Not only would it apply existing Part 5 requirements to new segments, but the NPRM also proposes more than a half-dozen additions that are expected to change the rules of compliance for all involved operators, said Carr.

For example, proposed additions include a requirement for a code of ethics, which would clarify safety as the highest priority for a flight operation. Originally directed toward Part 21 certificates, the FAA has proposed that this statement apply to all entities subject to Part 5.

“Unfortunately, this addition does not align with ICAO SMS standards and recommended practices contained in Annex 19,” continued Carr.

Another proposed addition is a requirement for a confidential employee reporting system. “A confidential reporting system, while perhaps helpful for a multitude of reporting needs in larger organizations, may have the opposite effect and reinforce the lack of a just safety culture in a smaller operation,” Carr said. “We want people to be open and forthcoming with workable requirements appropriate to the size of the operation.”

Other Potential Impacts

The NPRM also includes new requirements for certificate holders under Part 21, detailing definitions of certain core concepts such as hazards, which may conflict with standards established by ICAO.

Another proposed requirement details services provided by an external company and interfacing persons that contribute to the safety of that product or service.

“Think about a charter operator that uses an FBO,” Carr said. “The FBO provides fuel. That’s a big part of the safety equation for an operator. How is the charter operator going to ensure that every FBO the operator visits is doing what it needs to do to contribute to its safety system?”

The FAA proposal also would add requirements to system analysis and interfaces, as well as SMS documentation and record retention.

Also Ahead: SMS Final Rule for Airports

On a separate but related track, the FAA is expected to release a final SMS rule for airports, culminating a similar rulemaking process that began several years ago. Carr cautioned that the two separate rulemaking paths – one for airports and the other for operators – will impact each other.

“We must understand how these two requirements will work together so that work done by an FBO – perhaps in support of an airport SMS – will also meet the needs being proposed under this rule for interfacing parties,” he said.

International Standards

A structured SMS is a core part of the International Standards for Business Aviation Operations (IS-BAO), established decades ago by the International Business Aviation Council. The IS-BAO’s recommended code of best practices is intended to reach and maintain high standards of professionalism and safety.

We have an opportunity to learn from SMS implementation challenges experienced in Canada and New Zealand,” Carr said. “Training, guidance and buy-in will be critical if this expanded SMS effort is to be successful.”

Comment Period Extended

Fortunately, the industry has ample time to fully understand and weigh in on the FAA’s new SMS proposal – at NBAA’s request, the agency has extended its original March 13 deadline for comments, adding an additional 30 days to the response period.

Once the comment window closes, FAA representatives will adjudicate thousands of responses from the public, as well as NBAA and other interested organizations.

“Officials will go through a detailed, thoughtful process to incorporate those comments in order to make sure the rule can help operators achieve the safety objective and is functional for the community,” said NBAA Chief Operating Officer Chris Rocheleau. “The agency may also retain some relevant comments for later consideration to ensure flexibility as SMS practices and technology evolve.”