AEA Challenges FAA on Its Broad-based Proposal for SMS

The Aircraft Electronics Association sent comments to the FAA on Wednesday, Oct.21, in response to the FAA’s Safety Management Systems proposed rule-making:

October 21, 2009

Docket Operations
U.S Department of Transportation,
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE.,
Washington, D.C. 20590

Re: Safety Management System; Docket No. FAA–2009–0671

The Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA) represents more than 1,300 aviation businesses, including repair stations that specialize in maintenance, repair and installation of avionics and electronic systems in general aviation aircraft. AEA membership also includes instrument facilities, manufacturers of avionics equipment, instrument manufacturers, airframe manufacturers, test equipment manufacturers, major distributors, and educational institutions.

The Aircraft Electronics Association does not support the FAA’s proposal to mandate an independent safety management system for maintenance organizations.

Notwithstanding the Association’s support of the FAA’s efforts to enhance aviation safety, the AEA does not support the broad-based approach of safety management systems as proposed by the FAA in the advanced notice of proposed rulemaking.

The technical elements of risk identification, management and mitigation all are appropriate within the bounds of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations; that is, as a quality management system to ensure compliance with the Federal Aviation Regulations.

The unbound mandate for hazard evaluation, risk identification and risk mitigation without a cited hazard is outside the scope of the Administrative Procedures Act; therefore, the proposal is unsubstantiated. In addition, because the FAA has failed to identify a specific hazard it is attempting to mitigate, it is impossible to determine if any of the discussions of an SMS program as a viable solution are proper and adequate.

There are so many different SMS programs being implemented today in every sector of aviation that herding these different approaches into a cohesive process could be completely impossible.

The FAA’s use of SMS cost-and-benefit economic data in the ANPRM without defining the program is inappropriate. General industry, air carriers, the IATA Operational Safety Audit, International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations, Regional Air Cargo Carriers Association, Air Cargo Safety Foundation, Helicopter Association International, National Air Transportation Association, and the National Business Aviation Association each have different programs generically called a “safety management system.”

An operator’s SMS program may or may not be consistent with the FAA’s intended rulemaking. At this time, the only consistency is the name “safety management system.” There is no consistency in the performance, elements or outcome of the programs.

This proposal is not reasonable.

Title 49 of the United States Code mandates that the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall promote safe flight of civil aircraft in air commerce by prescribing minimum standards required in the interest of safety for appliances and for the design, material, construction, quality of work and performance of aircraft, aircraft engines and propellers.

This mandate prescribes that the FAA must identify and evaluate hazards, and, where appropriate, develop and implement regulations (minimum standards). To develop and implement regulations, the FAA must comply with:

  • Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act
  • Paperwork Reduction Act
  • International compatibility
  • Economic assessment:
    • Executive Order 12866
    • Regulatory Flexibility Act
    • Trade Agreements Act
  • Unfunded Mandates Reform Act
  • Executive Order 13132, “Federalism”
  • Regulations affecting intrastate aviation in Alaska
  • Environmental analysis
  • Regulation significantly affecting energy supply, distribution or use

When the FAA delegates safety management to the end-user, it must develop a mechanism to account for these 11 rulemaking mandates as a function of each risk mitigation action beyond the basic aviation regulations.

Does SMS contain processes that would benefit aviation safety? Yes.

The Administrator recently spoke about the benefit of tracking data in the medical industry and how the use of “incident” data allowed for better identification of hazards and for an appropriate level of risk mitigation.

The concept of tracking “incident” data as contained in SMS would not be unreasonable in aviation. Based on data collected by the National Safety Council, an aggressive approach to incident tracking, analysis and mitigation would eliminate 90 percent of all accidents.

Does SMS make sense for airlines? Yes.

The fractured regulatory structure of our aviation regulations allows for divided corporate leadership, which both insulates the senior leadership and allows one division of a company to make decisions that could impact other departments without any mandate for corporate oversight. EASA is correcting this by proposing a complete redesign of the aviation regulations so there is a single certificate for a multi-faceted company. Under EASA’s proposal, a single certificate could cover everything from flight training and air operations to maintenance and manufacturing. In the United States, Canada, and Australia, which uses the legacy regulatory structure, the civil aviation authorities’ only option is to create this overarching “umbrella” requirement to bring each of the certificates under the same management level.

Does a regulatory SMS make sense for a single-tiered company? Absolutely not. However, the regulations could benefit from some of the elements of SMS.

Should SMS be a standalone process for a maintenance organization? No.

The unbound proposal of risk analysis of any and all publically available identifiable hazards regardless of source would place an unreasonable administrative burden on aviation businesses. Currently, the FAA evaluates and analyzes identifiable hazards, and, if appropriate, develops mitigation strategies. The proposal to delegate the single FAA evaluation, analysis and mitigation to 4,000 individual repair stations multiplies the administrative burden of evaluation, analyses and mitigation by 4,000.

When evaluating the administrative burden of hazard identification, analysis and mitigation in aviation businesses, the FAA should consider the total labor the agency currently exercises to identify and evaluate hazards as presented by the National Transportation Safety Board, FAA inspections and audits, and incident reporting, then develop mitigation strategies as mandated by its legal mandate of Title 49 USC.

It will take each business at least as long as the agency currently takes. This administrative burden is excessive, unwarranted and unjustified.

SMS must be limited to tracking, analyzing and mitigating incidents of non-compliance with 14 CFR and/or repair station procedures.

SMS should incorporate incident tracking, management and mitigation into the basic repair station regulations. If the FAA does its job under Title 49 of the U.S. Code, a repair station’s quality management system already contained in 14 CFR Part 145 will ensure full compliance to the safety standards prescribed by the Administrator.

Administrative Burden of Managing an SMS Manual

The agency has a history of inadequately managing the non-standardization approvals of repair station manuals and repair station training programs.

Although the agency publishes a “standard” template, individual FAA inspectors add their individual personal preferences without any accountability to FAA leadership. This long-standing practice will continue if the FAA chooses to mandate a standalone SMS program, even if it does nothing more than point to existing repair station procedures.

It currently takes multiple staff weeks to develop, negotiate and receive approval of the simplest of repair station programs. In addition, each time a new inspector has oversight of a repair station, each manual is again reviewed and edits are mandated. There is no consistency with FAA reviews, acceptance or approvals of any current repair station manual.

Based on the agency’s history of managing the current manuals and programs a repair station must maintain, the FAA is incapable of estimating any reasonable amount of administrative burden of developing, approving and managing an independent
SMS program.

AEA supports aviation safety. Collecting data on an unbound “concept,” such as safety management systems, is unrealistic until the agency further defines the intended scope of the program. Based on the FAA’s previous history, the administrative burden on maintaining an independent program is indefinable and excessive. An integrated approach to upgrade the current regulations to include the elements of SMS is the only manageable approach.

In addition, the agency has not clearly defined the hazard SMS is intended to address, but rather defined SMS to address “unknown” hazards. This mandate is not within the scope of Title 49 of the U.S. Code.

The FAA must define how it would comply with the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act; Paperwork Reduction Act; international compatibility; Executive Order 12866; Regulatory Flexibility Act; Trade Agreements Act; Unfunded Mandates Reform Act; Executive Order 13132, “Federalism;” regulations affecting intrastate aviation in Alaska; environmental analysis; and regulations significantly affecting energy supply, distribution or use for the initial SMS mandate; and each risk mitigation the FAA delegates to the individual businesses through the acceptance of the individual SMS programs.

The Aircraft Electronics Association appreciates the opportunity to comment on this ANPRM. Should you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us at 202-589-1144.

Richard A. Peri
AEA Vice President of
Government & Industry Affairs

Contact Ric Peri, AEA vice president of government and industry affairs, by email at or by phone at 202-589-1144.