A Boeing 737 MAX, in Boeing livery, in-flight

FAA proposed rule mandating SMS for manufacturers nears publication

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US Federal Aviation Administration officials plan to shortly initiate proposed rulemaking that would require aircraft and engine manufacturers to have a Safety Management System (SMS) in place, obligating them to manage safety with the same level of priority that other core business processes are managed.

The FAA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is expected to be published this September, a spokeswoman for the agency told Runway Girl Network, noting that the NPRM will also seek comment on a proposed requirement that non-scheduled part 135 operators, companies conducting air tours under part 91, and repair stations adopt SMS, in addition to airframers and engine makers.

An agency abstract for the NPRM states:

[T]his rulemaking would require persons engaged in the design and production of aircraft, engines, or propellers; certificate holders that conduct common carriage operations under part 135; persons engaged in maintaining part 121 aircraft under part 145; and persons conducting certain, specific types of air tour operations under part 91 to implement a Safety Management System.

Also in September, a final rule requiring airports to implement SMSs is expected to drop, said the FAA spokeswoman.

SMS is a top-down, organization-wide approach to managing safety risk, ensuring that companies have effective risk controls in place that they can act upon. Airlines have been required to have SMSs in place for several years. And the fruits of their labor are apparent, Acting FAA Administrator Bill Nolen said on 14 June at the FAA-EASA Safety Conference in Washington DC.

“In the FAA, we’ve seen the benefits of SMS in driving down safety risk for commercial aviation, which is why we are working to expand SMS requirements to manufacturers, airports, and aviation service providers,” explained Nolen.

The forthcoming NPRM was borne out of the FAA’s review of the Boeing 737 MAX program following two fatal crashes. When the agency ungrounded the MAX on 18 November 2020, it noted in its report that: “The FAA currently requires an SMS only for part 121 operators. The FAA must mandate implementation of SMS for design and manufacturing organizations, thereby ensuring connection and interrelationship with the existing SMSs of airlines, airports, and service providers.”

But even as it began sketching a plan for such a mandate, the FAA recommended that manufacturers adopt voluntary SMS programs, and created guidance for stakeholders that wanted to take the initiative. In December 2020, it formally accepted Boeing’s voluntary SMS for its Boeing Commercial Airplanes unit — work it had steered the airfarmer toward as part of a prior settlement agreement to resolve alleged regulatory compliance issues at the firm.

Under its SMS policy, Boeing has pledged to foster a positive safety culture that enables proactive identification and mitigation of risks in order to prevent accidents, injuries, or loss of life; and ensure that all employees understand the requirement to report any safety hazard, incident, or concern, among other commitments.

Last month, the aircraft manufacturer published its first-ever Chief Aerospace Safety Officer Report, wherein it described its SMS work to date including employee awareness training. And, on 23 June, as part of its implementation of this enterprise-wide SMS, Boeing announced it will integrate Aireon’s space-based ADS-B data into its safety analytics tools.

Under the arrangement, Aireon will provide historical aircraft data and near real-time aircraft event data via its so-called AireonINSIGHTS product “for select Boeing airplane programs”, the two firms said in a statement.

AireonINSIGHTS fuses Aireon’s ADS-B data with aviation contextual data like infrastructure, weather, avionics, aircraft registry and scheduling data, to provide data on aircraft tracking events and alerts for flights.

“We are investing in a data stream that can be transformed into safety intelligence,” said Vishwa Uddanwadiker, Boeing vice president of Aerospace Safety Analytics. “We are adding this to our data analytics ecosystem to help predict and prevent safety risks, while identifying other opportunities to strengthen our Safety Management System.”

Aireon CEO Don Thoma added: “With this integration, Boeing will have data to provide a full operational view of its fleet, and we are excited to partner with them.”

Asked by Runway Girl Network to describe the select Boeing aircraft programs that will see Aireon provide data (Boeing 737NG, 737 MAX, 777, 787), the airframer remained vague. “Over a period of time, we will receive historical and near-real time data for various Boeing airplanes which will provide us a holistic view across our fleet. The objective is to make our risk models robust by ingesting a variety of data,” said Uddanwadiker via an emailed statement.

He noted that all of the data will be used in-house to support advanced analytics being performed to strengthen Boeing’s SMS.

The 737 MAX program specifically, however, is again the focus of media scrutiny, after ABC News claimed that the twinjet has experienced at least six mid-air emergencies and dozens of groundings in the year after the ungrounding order.

“An ABC investigation can also reveal the US government will announce a new audit examining Boeing’s production oversight of the 737 MAX planes,” stated the news agency.


Separately, the FAA may yet see fit to formally integrate Aireon’s signal with the US air traffic system. A joint venture involving Iridium, NAV CANADA and European air navigation service providers, Aireon “is actively engaged with the FAA regarding use of space-based ADS-B”, confirmed an Aireon spokeswoman this week.

It remains to be seen if the next round of FAA reauthorization legislation in 2023 will include investment for this integration.

“We look forward to continued discussions on the integration of the signal into the airspace and ultimate operational use according to FAA’s established timeline,” she said.

However, in the interim, the FAA has been evaluating Aireon’s service in the Miami Oceanic and Caribbean area and exploring innovative use cases for space-based ADS-B.

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Featured image credited to istock.com/the_guitar_mann