Feb. 9, 2023

The FAA’s recent notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to expand applicability of mandated safety management systems (SMS) in 14 CFR Part 5 was the topic at NBAA’s Hot Topics in Business Aviation session held at the 2023 NBAA Regional Forum at Miami-Opa locka Executive Airport (OPF).

The presentation, hosted by NBAA Director, Flight Operations and Regulations Brian Koester, CAM, offered a broad overview of the issue, including a brief history of FAA’s SMS rulemaking and some of the key provisions of the NPRM.

An SMS, according to FAA, aims “to provide a systematic approach to achieving acceptable levels of safety risk.” It’s made up of four functional components: safety policy, safety risk management, safety assurance and safety promotion.

The FAA’s proposal calls for essentially expanding applicability in Part 5 beyond airlines to some Part 21 type certificate and production certificate holders, Part 135 charter operators and air tour operations under Part 91.147. Much of the regulatory impact of the NPRM has yet to be determined, which prompted questions during the NBAA session at OPF. The NPRM also proposes more than a half-dozen additions that are expected to change the rules of compliance for all involved operators

Koester reminded session attendees that the proposed rule is still in draft form and available for public comment until April 11 offering the business aviation community a chance to influence the FAA’s final rule as the process moves forward.

Existing Voluntary SMS Programs

A number of general aviation operators are already taking part in voluntary SMS programs, Koester told attendees at the session.

For example, the International Standards for Business Aviation Operations (IS-BAO), established by the International Business Aviation Council, with NBAA guidance, today has more than 700 participating companies worldwide. “Under IS-BAO, a number of operators have had an SMS in place for many years,” Koester said. “Those systems are actively enhancing the level of safety in their operations. So, one of the questions we have as we evaluate this is how is this rule going to affect those operators that have an existing SMS?”

FAA SMS Voluntary Program

An existing FAA mechanism aimed at recognizing a GA SMS is through the agency’s Voluntary SMS Program, according to Koester. This is intended to be a scaled down version of Part 5 – basically taking the rules currently used for airlines and scaling them to general aviation. “About 250 or so GA operators have applied for this program,” Koester said. “Roughly 50 have gone all the way through the requirements to receive formal recognition by the FAA for their SMS program, and that’s a recent development.”

Applicability to Part 91 Operators

During the session’s questions and answers, Josh Hernandez, a pilot for a Part 91 operation based in Chicago, wanted to know if the FAA has a proposal on the table to expand Part 91 operations beyond those operators that are conducting operations for compensation.

“NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy has indicated the board would like to see the requirement for SMS expanded to anyone conducting operations for compensation,” Koester said. “So my hunch is that this means [broadening a set of SMS mandates to] Part 125 [operations] instead of expanding to additional Part 91 operators and potentially Part 91(k) [operations]. But beyond that, I wouldn’t expect an expansion to all Part 91 operations. There isn’t anything on the table – there’s no proposal.”

Koester explained that the FAA would have to release a new NPRM before they would issue new rules that would affect other regulatory segments. “They’d have to go through all the administrative procedures and acts as well as a cost benefit analysis. There are a lot of steps required when the FAA puts out new regulations. And they can’t simply skip those by adding other regulatory or operating parts into the final rule that weren’t included in the original NPRM.”

NBAA is currently assessing the NPRM and preparing to submit comments. As FAA officials have developed the SMS proposal, NBAA has continually provided guidance to the agency. 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.

Koester encouraged attendees to email NBAA at sms@nbaa.org if they have additional questions about the FAA’s NPRM.