FAA Issues New Airport Safety Rule

The FAA is mandating the implementation of safety management systems at 200 of the busiest U.S. airports.

FAA’s final rule takes effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register and is designed to improve safety at some 200 of the nation’s busiest airports. [Credit: Shutterstock]

In an effort to increase safety at airports, the Federal Aviation Administration is mandating certain airports develop and implement a safety management system (SMS), the agency announced Thursday. 

According to a statement released by the FAA, the final rule takes effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register and is designed to improve safety at some 200 of the nation's busiest airports. 

These airports, per the FAA's draft of the rule, fall under Part 139 and qualify under one or more of the following criteria:

  • Classified as large, medium, or small hubs, based on passenger data extracted from the FAA Air Carrier Activity Information System.
  • Have a 3-year rolling average of 100,000 or more total annual operations.
  • Serve any international operation other than general aviation.

"The safe operation of our nation’s airports is paramount during these historic times in aviation as we work to repair and construct necessary airport infrastructure,” Shannetta Griffin, associate administrator for airports, said. “This rule promotes safety and allows airports to work collaboratively with partners to mitigate risks and avert accidents.”

The FAA noted that over the years the use of SMS programs in the aviation industry by manufacturers and commercial airlines has resulted in a decrease in accidents and incidents, as an SMS is designed to identify risks, then take steps to mitigate them before they result in an accident or incident.

The FAA has been exploring the concept of SMS, per Advisory Circular 150/5200, which has been updated over the years. The AC identifies the four areas of concern when developing an SMS as safety policy, safety assurance, safety risk management, and safety promotion. Users are encouraged to look at their own businesses and operations to identify weak spots that present risk, then develop procedures to mitigate these issues.

SMS Timeline

In many cases, a SMS is a living document as it is often adjusted to reflect changes in the productivity and culture of a business. There needs to be an emphasis on a culture of safety and communication so that employees have to feel comfortable reporting an issue.

The timeline to fully implement SMS per this rulemaking, ranges from four to five and a half years, depending on the airports’ classification and operations.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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