FAA Publishes SMS Rule

Tomorrow (January 8), the FAA will publish its SMS final rule for air carriers.

The industry has been waiting several years for this rule.  In fact, Congress mandated this air carrier SMS rule in 2010, with a final rule date not later than August 1, 2012.


The new rule applies to part 121 carriers, and requires them to submit an implementation plan to the FAA for review no later than September 9, 2015.  The implementation plan must be approved no later than March 9, 2016.  The plan must be fully implemented not later than March 9, 2018.

The FAA has estimated that the 90 domestic Part 121 air carriers will spend about 82 million dollars implementing and running SMS programs over the next ten years.  But these estimates are based on a man-power analysis that seems a little light.  Compliance with FAA requirements often takes more effort than what the FAA is estimating in its cost-benefit analysis.

This regulation should serve as a template for later SMS rules for manufacturers and repair stations.  An ICAO Standard and Recommended Practice (SARP) requires SMS regulations to be applied against air carriers, manufacturers and repair stations.  Many discussions of those rules have centered around reliance on the same Part 5 SMS rule that serves as the core of this rulemaking activity.


There are significant new record-keeping requirements in this rule.  The FAA is required to get OMB approval before it can impose new record-keeping requirements.  The rulemaking preamble admits that the OMB approval has not yet been issued, but promises to publish the OMB approval number when (if) it is issued.  The industry should keep careful watch on this – it has happened in the past that the FAA has sought to enforce record-keeping requirements before the OMB approval number was issued (or in the absence of such an approval number).  If the OMB approval number is not published by the time the implementation plans are due (in September) then air carriers may want to submit implementation plans without recordkeeping components.

The new records that must be created and maintained by air carriers will include:

  • records of outputs of safety risk management processes
  • records of outputs of safety assurance processes
  • records of all training

In addition, air carriers will be required to develop and maintain communication mechanisms that accomplish the following, and records of all of these communications must also be maintained:

  • Ensure that employees are aware of the SMS policies, processes, and tools that are relevant totheir responsibilities
  • Convey hazard information relevant to each employee’s responsibilities
  • Explains why each safety action has been taken (the FAA has not defined this term, “safety action,” but preambulatory language suggests that any reactive or proactive action taken to enhance safety may meet this description, so this could include each piloting decision, each dispatch decision, and even the decision to purchase a part from one vendor instead of another vendor)
  • Explain why each safety procedure is introduced or changed
  • Explain the reason for each safety procedure change

How Might This Affect Distribution?

A lot of the specifics about SMS are left open to interpretation. As a consequence, it is impossible to predict with any accuracy what sort of data requests will be directed from air carriers to their distributors. But it is not absurd to believe that some air carriers may impose data requirements on distributors in order to support their safety risk and safety assurance obligations.

On the other hand, this might be good for aircraft parts distribution. If air carriers are required to justify their safety decisions, and this extends to parts procurement decision, then a decision to purchase from an accredited distributor is justifiable, based on the FAA’s determination that such purchase is a sound safety practice (not to mention the FAA audit of the AC 00-56 program which found the program to be effective).

About Jason Dickstein
Mr. Dickstein is the President of the Washington Aviation Group, a Washington, DC-based aviation law firm. He represents several aviation trade associations, including the Aviation Suppliers Association, the Aircraft Electronics Association, the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association and the Modification and Replacement Parts Association.

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