A proposal initially intended for airlines could unleash a host of new, ill-defined requirements for general aviation—requirements that neither the FAA nor the industry has the resources to implement, AOPA told the agency March 7.
In late 2010, the FAA proposed requiring Part 121 airlines “ to develop and implement a safety management system (SMS) to improve its aviation related activities.” While this would at first only apply to scheduled airlines, the agency said that it intended to extend the requirement to other air agency certificate holders, including charters, flight schools, and repair stations.
AOPA supports promoting an industry-wide safety culture but warned that that the broad, open-ended requirements in the proposal would open the door for widely varying interpretation and would overburden small businesses. In addition, AOPA wrote, the FAA already has long delays and varying interpretations of existing, simpler regulations; adding more would be “irresponsible and a disservice to the small business owners and aviation community as a whole.”
An SMS includes “an organization-wide safety policy; formal methods for identifying hazards, controlling, and continually assessing risk; and promotion of a safety culture,” the FAA proposal said. It did not specify how compliance would be measured.
So how would organizations comply? AOPA warned in the letter that SMS concepts are extremely subjective. Companies would be subject to various field inspectors’ interpretations—a problem that already exists, said AOPA Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Rob Hackman.
“Today, we see a significant difference in the ‘interpretation’ of existing regulations by FAA staff that oversees general aviation operations,” he wrote. “It will be virtually impossible to standardize inspectors to the level necessary to evaluate a company’s SMS processes.”
Applying the SMS requirements to GA would be burdensome for both operators and inspectors, Hackman said. Small businesses often can’t spare employees to dedicate to meeting extensive new requirements, and there is already a backlog of issues related to obtaining and maintaining existing air agency certificates at FAA flight standards district offices nationwide, he said.
The proposal stems from a 2010 law requiring rulemaking that would implement SMSs for air carriers. AOPA urged the FAA not to consider expanding SMS beyond that mandate for air carriers until serious questions are answered and the industry and FAA have significant experience with air carrier SMS. The FAA should instead consider voluntary methods for incorporating safety programs, the association said.