Another Reason for Distributors to Pay Attention to Safety Management Systems (SMS)

The Aviation Suppliers Association (ASA) has been promoting the adoption of risk management systems that would integrate with Safety Management Systems. One reason for this is because SMS can be a useful tool for managing safety; but another reason is because the business partners of distributors are expected to adopt SMS and distributors need to be able to work with their business partners’ SMS mechanisms.

An important driver for the ASA recommendations is the knowledge that SMS is coming. ICAO recommneded SMS almost 20 years ago, and ten years ago ICAO consolidated its SMS recommendations into one resource: Annex 19. The world’s aviation authorities have been seriously studying SMS for years, now; several have already implemented SMS for certain industry sectors and more SMS regulations are on the way.

EASA has taken the next step toward implementing a Safety Management Systems (SMS) rule for manufacturers and repair stations. Today, EASA proposed EASA SMS Opinion 04/2020. That Opinion was submitted to the European Commission for implementation.

Under that opinion. EASA proposes to modify the EU aviation manufacturing regulation, and the EU aviation maintenance regulation, to incorporate SMS. The proposed changes would also accomplish other objectives, like better alignment with other regulatory structures.

Air carriers in many countries have already adopted SMS programs. For distributors, this EASA proposal means that both the source of parts (the manufacturers) and the customers (the air carriers and repair stations) will be adopting Safety Management Systems. Past experience has shown that when the rest of aviation adopts a common approach to safety, that tends to result in application of the common approach to distribution, either through flow-down or through indirect pressure. With this in mind, it is likely that SMS will find its way into the aircraft parts distribution world and in support of this eventuality ASA has been offering SMS resources to its members for a number of years.

The next step is for the European Commission to adopt those changes. We do not yet know the precise timeline for that implementation, but the proposal has suggested implementation in the third quarter of 2021 (this timeline is not binding on the European Commission). Once the proposal is adopted by the Commission, EASA proposes that the amending regulations become applicable one year after adoption by the Commission.

The most notable SMS changes to the European aviation regulations are meant to:

  • Incorporate safety risk management, safety performance and continuous improvement elements into the EU regulations;
  • Foster an organizational safety culture in repair stations, design organizations, and production organizations; and
  • Streamline the oversight requirements for government agencies.

One of the key features of SMS for regulated parties is the identification of hazards – including future hazards – and the current mitigation of the risks posed by those predicted hazards. EASA notes that during the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve noticed that an organization’s ability to effectively identify and manage emerging risks has proven to be an efficient tool for returning to normal operations. This is offered as a support for the value proposition associated with the introduction of SMS regulations.

EASA also posted its Comment-Response Document (CRD) for the SMS rule on its website, today. That document explains a number of the decisions that were made in the development of the SMS proposal.

About Jason Dickstein
Mr. Dickstein is the President of the Washington Aviation Group, a Washington, DC-based aviation law firm. Since 1992, he has represented aviation trade associations and businesses that include aircraft and aircraft parts manufacturers, distributors, and repair stations, as well as both commercial and private operators. Blog content published by Mr. Dickstein is not legal advice; and may not reflect all possible fact patterns. Readers should exercise care when applying information from blog articles to their own fact patterns.

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