Updating a proposed rule first issued in 2010, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently published a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SNPRM) on safety management systems (SMS) for airports. The FAA’s revised proposal narrows the applicability of the SMS rule to far fewer airports and also lessens certain training requirements on covered airports. Comments on the updated proposal must be submitted before September 12, 2016.

Almost six years ago, the FAA published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that would have required all Part 139 airport certificate holders to establish an SMS for the entire airfield environment, including movement and non-movement areas. Airport operators were the primary commenters on the rule, although air carriers, airline employees, trade associations, attorneys general and other airport stakeholders also filed. Many of the public comments in response to the NPRM recommended the FAA cover fewer airports and establish less onerous requirements on covered airports.

FAA Narrows the Applicability of the Proposed Rule

After reviewing the comments received, the FAA released a revised version of the rule, which narrowed the applicability of the SMS program to roughly half as many airports as the original proposal. According to the FAA, the new rule would apply to only 268 airports, covering 98 percent of passenger enplanements. The FAA now proposes to require an SMS only the following certificated airports:

  • Classified as a small, medium, or large hub airport in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS);
  • International airports; or
  • Airports having more than 100,000 total annual operations.

FAA Lessens the SMS Training Requirements for Employees

The FAA’s original proposal included an SMS training requirement for all employees and tenants with access to the movement and non-movement areas of the airport. In response to comments regarding the cost and time-consuming nature of such a requirement from airport operators, the FAA modified its proposal to limit training to the following:

  • Comprehensive SMS training tailored to the individuals’ specific role for implementing and maintaining the SMS; and
  • Hazard awareness and reporting awareness orientation for all other individuals with access to the movement and non-movement areas.

According to the FAA, the revised training provisions would require roughly ten individuals at large airports and three individuals at small airports to take the comprehensive SMS training. The awareness requirement for all other employees could be met through a brochure, white paper, or other similar means. The certificate holder is responsible for providing the materials to its tenants—such as air carriers, caterers, and fueling agents—for distribution.

FAA Extends Implementation Period for SMS Plans

The FAA is also proposing changes that would extend the implementation period of the rule from 18 to 24 months, giving covered airports more time to develop and implement their SMS plans. The FAA’s original proposal required covered airports to submit an implementation plan within six months of the effective date of the final rule, but the SNPRM proposes to double that period to 12 months.