NTSB's Graham Urges Collaboration on Small Operator SMS

 - June 17, 2022, 11:33 AM

The aviation community must collectively work together to change the belief that safety management systems (SMS) are overly burdensome for small operators, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member Michael Graham told attendees yesterday at the National Air Transportation Association Aviation Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C.

Graham—the former chairman of the Air Charter Safety Foundation and director of flight operations safety, security, and standardization for Textron Aviation who joined the Safety Board in January 2020—,noted the agency has long pushed for SMS for Part 135 operations. The initial recommendation, A-16-36, was released in 2016 and since has been reiterated seven times.

The most recent came out of the Board meeting in May on the December 2019 AS350B2 air-tour crash in Kekaha, Hawaii. This one, however, specifically targeted small operators, calling on the FAA to “develop guidance for small operators for scaling [an SMS] that includes methods and techniques for implementation and specific examples applicable to several operational sectors, including air tours.”

Graham said he has heard from industry leaders questioning how to get small operators on board with SMS. “There is a demonstrated hesitancy among small operators who mistakenly believe that SMS is overly burdensome and not worth the investment to improve safety. We must change that perception.”

He stressed that SMS is designed to be scalable but operators need to see how it can work for them. “You show me how to do something, I do it,” he said, saying operators should be given specific examples of what would work for them. Further, Graham added that SMSs don’t all have to look alike. At a minimum, operators must have a risk-management tool.

“I know a lot of operators out there that don't have an SMS are Part 135 operators. They don't really understand the decisions that they make and how it affects that margin of safety,” he said. “And let's face it, decisions you make could improve your margin of safety…[or] reduce your margin of safety. And if they reduce your margin of safety, that increases the likelihood that you may have an accident. We see this over and over again.”