U.S.: expect delays on SMS rules

 - March 30, 2010, 8:05 AM

Although only a handful of countries have regulations in place for approving safety management systems (SMS), most nations are working to comply with an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) regulation that will require an SMS for international operators of large aircraft and business jets weighing more than 12,500 pounds.

At the Air Charter Safety Symposium early last month Dr. Don Arendt, SMS program manager for the FAA, acknowledged that there are misunderstandings about the requirements themselves and, with few exceptions, every country is still struggling with the regulations.

“There still is a lot of ambiguity in the world,” he told attendees, “so I am going to have to give some things with a degree of equivocation.”

He said that even Canada, which has been working on SMS for 10 years, still doesn’t have fully implemented SMS regulations. Singapore has regulations, and Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda have completed their regulations. But most of the world is still working on SMS.

Despite the fact that all ICAO member states were supposed to have SMS regulations in place by January, most are lagging like the U.S., which filed a “difference” with ICAO stating basically that the FAA does not yet have SMS requirements in place. Last July, the FAA filed an advance notice of proposed rulemaking seeking public comment on potential regulation.

The FAA has about 80 pilot projects under way to assist in its rulemaking effort, but Arendt pointed out that the process takes several years in the U.S. And as the original Nov. 18, 2010, deadline for general aviation operators draws near, it is clear this country will not be alone in missing that goal.

Currently, the FAA has only Advisory Circular 120-92, “Introduction to Safety Management Systems for Air Operators,” to provide information for operators to develop SMS programs voluntarily. But Arendt noted that there are no FAA authorization procedures to accept or approve an SMS.

Consequences of SMS

SMS could prove to be the proverbial two-edge sword. “We need to think about the unintended consequences of SMS,” cautioned Gary Arber, v-p and general counsel of Alpha Flying, which manages the PlaneSense fractional ownership program. Information contained in an SMS could become fodder for litigators in the event of an accident or incident. “The Europeans and ICAO have sort of forced [SMS] on us,” he added.

The other side of the equation, according to Kent Jackson, founder and managing partner of the law firm of Jackson & Wade, is the case in New York City involving a ferry boat accident several years ago. He said the court found the ferry boat company negligent because it didn’t have a safety management program in place.

Jackson suggested that a company is not going to release everything in its SMS, and he questioned whether the FAA would or could treat SMS filings as proprietary. What about requests made through the Freedom of Information Act? “We do need protection–no doubt,” he asserted.

Summing up the two-day event, ACSF president James Coyne said, “Instilling a robust corporate safety culture takes a concerted, organized and sincere effort–an effort supported by the ACSF membership, safety programs and initiatives.”