FAA Developing Broader SMS Mandate for Part 135 and 145

 - October 27, 2020, 4:27 PM

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson hopes the agency will have a proposed rule mandating safety management systems (SMS) for air taxi and air tour operators, repair stations, and PMA parts providers by second-quarter 2022, he said on Tuesday at the FAA's Virtual International Rotorcraft Safety Conference. The agency is also working on a separate rule mandating SMS for airports, he added. Dickson also used the occasion to encourage helicopter operators to voluntarily modernize their aircraft with crash-resistant fuel systems, seats, and structures.

A former airline pilot, Dickson said the agency’s goal is to spread the safety record of Part 121 air carriers, which are required to have an SMS, downstream to the rest of aviation by moving “the ball forward in a collaborative way.” The safety systems employed by Part 121 carriers can be “progressively deployed” and scaled “throughout the aerospace industry," he said.

“It's no secret that the airline industry in the U.S. is the gold standard when it comes to unprecedented safety levels. It’s the safest form of transportation in human history and one of the key elements to that success story is the collaboration, partnership, and sharing of information and data between all stakeholders,” he said. Dickson further noted that the keys to successful SMS programs “are the practices of flight data monitoring and safety reporting using proactive, data-driven approaches to oversight that prioritize safety over all else and do it in a systematic way,” accompanied by a just culture.  

The ultimate benefit of ubiquitous SMS is the generation of data that can be used to prevent “what could be an accident or incident in the making” and encourage operators to “use flight data monitoring as feedback into their training programs and ideally make it part of a systematic SMS process,” Dickson said. That includes sharing data across organizations via FAA FAASTeams, industry workshops and organizations, and industry safety experts.

He singled out the FAA’s Helicopter InfoShare program, which began meetings late last year, and offshore energy’s Helicopter Safety Advisory Council, whose best practices are “easily adaptable to other helicopter sectors.” Additionally, he praised the work of the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team (USHST). 

Dickson stressed that a recommitment to safety was essential toward the goal of knocking down the helicopter fatal accident rate that has “remained roughly the same” for the last 15 years. 

Noting that 90 percent of all helicopter fatalities are caused by blunt force trauma, Dickson called on operators to voluntarily install crash-resistant seats and structures, as well as crash-resistant fuel tanks required on new production helicopters. “Thousands of helicopters in our legacy fleet aren't required to have these features. Why not consider retrofitting these upgrades now?” he asked.