"Safety Management System Rule"
Michael Huerta, Washington, DC
January 7, 2015

Press Conference

Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  I want to reiterate a point you made, and that is that we are constantly striving to enhance safety and to improve the system we have right now, which is very safe.

In the past, our focus in improving safety was to study the causes of past accidents.  As a result, we have continuously improved aviation safety and, fortunately, today we have very few accidents.  But we all know that our ultimate goal is to prevent accidents from happening at all. 

That is where Safety Management Systems come in.  A Safety Management System is an organization-wide approach to mitigating risk in airline operations. It’s a series of processes and procedures that everyone follows so that we can enhance safety. It does this by having a structured approach to look at data from airline operations. This data can help identify patterns and trends that could possibly lead to a problem.  But having this information enables the industry to take action before there is a problem. 

As the Secretary said, a safety management system does NOT replace FAA oversight or inspections, but what it DOES do is help foster a stronger safety culture within an airline.

A strong safety culture is a very, very valuable thing. It’s something that we cannot regulate completely in every aspect because it is something that a company has to create from within. This rule helps further that process. A vibrant Safety Management System stems from employee professionalism and from employee dedication to always doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.

Already, airlines are voluntarily sharing enormous amounts of their operational data with the FAA in a cooperative effort to enhance safety. We can all learn from each other. The data we have now covers about 96 percent of U.S. air carrier commercial operations. This represents a great willingness to work together. This data comes from a variety of sources, including self-reporting by employees when they see a safety risk.

The rule requires airlines to implement a safety management system within three years. They must submit their implementation plans to the FAA within six months. The rule also requires a single accountable executive to oversee SMS.

What a Safety Management System does is create a process for looking at this data in a systematic way, identifying the risk, and then taking actions to mitigate risk before there is a problem. This rule applies to all commercial carriers, both passenger and cargo. A Safety Management System can be scaled to the size of an airline’s operation. It is NOT one size fits all. We want airlines to create the best system that matches their operations.

In making this rule, we looked at more than 100 accidents of U.S. commercial carriers between 2001 and 2010 and we determined that if Safety Management Systems had been in place, they may have prevented many of these tragedies.

There is no question in my mind that Safety Management Systems are the right way to go, and we are adopting this approach within the FAA as well.

I appreciate you all coming out to learn more about this important advancement in aviation safety.

Now, I’d like to turn it over to Nick Calio, President and CEO of Airlines for America, for the industry perspective.