March 21, 2011

While it may have brought sighs of relief from many Part 91 and Part 135 operators, the full impact of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) decision last week to withdraw an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) on safety management systems (SMS) remains unclear.

Released in July 2009, the ANPRM sought public comments on potential rules requiring SMS for Part 21, 119, 131, 125, 135, 141, 142 and 145 certificate holders, product manufacturers, applicants and employers. In announcing its decision, the FAA cited its recent issuance of a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for Part 121 certificate holders to develop and implement a SMS as the reason for withdrawing the ANPRM.

Put simply, the FAA has its plate full for now. But it may revisit the issue down the road, said Doug Carr, NBAA vice president of safety, security & regulation.

“It doesn’t mean the issue goes away,” he said. “I think it was just an effort for FAA to clean up a little bit of the strings left over from previous efforts while at least signaling to the community that this first SMS round is going to be a lot for [FAA] to tackle.”

In fact, in its announcement the FAA cautioned that it may “initiate additional rulemaking in the future to consider SMS for other product/service providers.”

Meanwhile, all eyes are on Part 121. The comment period for the Part 121 NPRM, which opened in December, had been extended to March 7 following a request from several non-airline organizations, including NBAA and AOPA. The organizations believe an eventual Part 121 SMS rule could impact SMS rules on other groups of operators. As such, they wanted more time to study the issue and submit comments.

Until the FAA determines its approach toward non-commercial SMS, Carr said NBAA wants the FAA to recognize U.S.-operator SMS programs that currently meet International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) SMS standards.

“ICAO has set the requirements, and countries are implementing them in their own national law,” he said. “That’s the standard we want FAA to recognize, the ICAO standard.”

Effective April 1, Bermuda will become the first country to require operators to demonstrate SMS compliance. “Other countries are likely to follow,” Carr said.

Meanwhile, even for those operating solely in the U.S., implementing a voluntary SMS as a best practice may be worthwhile. It’s uncertain when, or if, the FAA may require SMS for Part 91 and Part 135 operators, but Carr said, “Wesll be watching every step taken by the FAA as they determine how to apply the ICAO SMS standard.”

For more information, contact NBAA’s Doug Carr at