NBAA Cautions FAA on Part 135 SMS Proposal

 - April 15, 2021, 10:12 AM

NBAA is appealing to the FAA to ensure that its upcoming rulemaking requiring safety management systems (SMS) for Part 135 operators does not disrupt safety measures already in place, is scalable, and does not impose additional mandates such as for flight data monitoring. The FAA is anticipating releasing a proposal next year to require SMS for Part 135 operators, repair stations, and manufacturers.

In a recent letter to Rick Domingo, the executive director of the FAA’s Flight Standards Service, NBAA said it supports the core existing regulatory framework of SMS for business aviation operators, but “we remain concerned with support for existing safety cultures, scalability, and oversight.”

Many operators have used SMS for 15 years or more, NBAA said, adding that, as such, those operators “have a strong safety culture well embedded within their operations.” Nearly 150 Part 135 operators meet the IS-BAO standard that has SMS as a foundation, the association added, noting other foreign agencies have accepted the IS-BAO standard to substantiate compliance with SMS requirements.

NBAA further stressed the need for scalability, given that the Part 135 on-demand charter business consists of many single-pilot, single-aircraft operators with limited personnel and budgets. “New regulations should be feasible for these operations, as well as large on-demand carriers that all have significantly different size, scope, and resources than most Part 121 air carriers.”

Concerning NBAA is the fact that while the FAA’s Voluntary Safety Management System Program (VSMSP) has been in place for years, by last October only 23 of the 222 Part 135 operators who have applied to the program were deemed fully in compliance. “In speaking directly with operators, the long, burdensome approval process was a principal barrier to entry, as the program was not appropriately scaled from the regulation governing Part 121 air carriers,” the association said.

Another concern surrounds any possible requirement for flight data monitoring (FDM). Some Part 135 operators use FDM and while it is viewed as an industry best practice, “the cost to equip aircraft and implement the program is not economically feasible for most operators,” NBAA said. “Such a requirement should be scaled appropriately, as they have the potential to add such costs to smaller operators with older aircraft that they would likely leave the 135 industry, removing them from the FAA’s oversight.”

As for oversight, the FAA must take a strategic approach, NBAA said. “There is a concern with having a principal operations inspector accept a program for which he/she has no operational experience, especially when the SMS includes departments outside of flight operations and maintenance (i.e. information technology and finance),” the association said.

Businesses also worry about privacy or the use of SMS data for enforcement. “It is imperative to an SMS's success that sensitive information be kept confidential and ineligible for use as evidence in enforcement,” NBAA said.

“We hope the FAA will open a dialogue about these and other concerns with the industry prior to issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,” said Brian Koester, NBAA director of flight operations and regulations. “Working with the industry in a new rulemaking effort would go a long way to community acceptance of a new SMS mandate.”