With the goal of reducing the fatality risk of commercial air travel, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has taken a step to “fill the gap” between industry-wide regulations and operator-specific circumstances.
Last week, the FAA issued a final rule requiring that most commercial airlines in the U.S. create safety management systems (SMS). Simply stated, a SMS provides a formal system for identifying and reducing risks. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx described it as a way to detect “warning signs” and mitigate risk before an accident occurs.
The rule, which was mandated by the 2010 Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act, applies to Part 121 operators — commercial air carriers with scheduled flights, including cargo and passenger airlines.
Most of these carriers have already voluntarily developed their own programs and already participate in a FAA pilot program. Before September 9, each airline must develop a SMS and submit plans that include a timeline for implementation by March 9, 2018 — three years after the rule is expected to go into effect.
According to the FAA, industry-wide rules helped decrease the fatality risk of commercial air travel by 83 percent from 1998 to 2008, but to meet a goal of further reducing the risk by 50 percent, it was important to allow each carrier to create its own SMS.
As the FAA website explains, “Many accidents that occur are due to the unique aspects of the operating environments of individual operators of narrow segments of the aviation community. The causal factors of these accidents aren’t common to everyone, they must be found and addressed with methods that are sensitive to the nuances of the individual operator’s situation.”
A method for gathering and analyzing data from across airline operations will be a key component for finding those causes. The FAA has provided a software system for carriers to use, and nearly 50 airlines already voluntarily gather and share data through the FAA’s Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) program.
The system addresses risk management, but also the development, assurance, and promotion of safety policies.
In terms of the rest of the aviation industry, the FAA already operates pilot SMS programs for repair stations and manufacturers and is developing a program for airports.