Safety Management System

Frequently Asked Questions

SMS Background

What is SMS?
SMS is an acronym that stands for "Safety Management System."

SMS is the formal, top-down business-like approach to managing safety risk, which includes a systemic approach to managing safety, including the necessary organizational structures, accountabilities, policies and procedures. (Order VS 8000.367) Please visit the SMS Explained section to learn more about SMS and how safety management has evolved over time. You can also learn more about the four SMS components — Policy, Risk Management, Assurance, and Promotion — in the Components section.

Why do we need SMS?
We are now in a position where the "common cause" accidents are diminishing in number. While it's a major success story, it's not a place to rest. When we find a cause that affects all or part of a large population of operators or other aviation participants, we can address risk through rulemaking — a risk control that applies to everyone to address risks to which everyone is exposed. There will always be some of these risks and work will continue to find them and address them. Many accidents that occur, however, are due to the unique aspects of the operating environments of individual operators of narrow segments of the aviation community. The causal factors of these accidents aren't common to everyone, they must be found and addressed with methods that are sensitive to the nuances of the individual operator's situation. One of the defining characteristics of an SMS is its emphasis on risk management [within the individual operators environment and situation] — it's a gap filler between the common cause risk factors that are addressed by traditional regulations and those that are more elusive.
This whole SMS thing reminds me of Zero Defects, Total Quality Management, Six Sigma and a half-dozen other buzz-word concepts that came and went over the years. Am I wrong?
As far as being "flavor of the day," that is, of course, always a risk with any new program. It's a given that we can go (at least) one of two ways with any new program — a perfunctory "check the block program (often associated with some catchy terms and other rhetoric but little substance) or one in which the concepts and principles are embraced by both the regulator and industry and thus have at least a chance of achieving their objectives. If the motivation isn't there on the part of managers, management systems will not produce. It's certainly our intent to produce a robust program with effective tools, training, and outreach.
Why is FAA implementing SMS? Why now?
FAA's continuing mission is to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world. Having a Safety Management System (SMS) is becoming a standard throughout the aviation industry worldwide. It is recognized by the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO), International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), civil aviation authorities (CAA) and product/service providers as the next step in the evolution of safety in aviation.

SMS is also becoming a standard for the management of safety beyond aviation. Similar management systems are used in the management of other critical areas such as quality, occupational safety and health, security, environment, etc.

ICAO is doing SMS because of a global recognition of its benefits. ICAO also requires its member organizations (who are regulatory oversight entities) to have a State Safety Program (SSP).

SMS concepts have generated wide-spread support in the aviation community as an effective approach that can deliver real safety benefits. The benefits materialize as organizations are evolving to include not only reactive actions but proactive and  predictive attributes to risk management as well.

For more information about the benefits of SMS, Please visit the SMS Explained: Basis

How does SMS differ from traditional safety control methods? Aren't we already doing SMS through previous implementation efforts?
SMSs are the product of a continuing evolution in aviation safety. Early aviation pioneers had little safety regulation or policy to guide them, and had not yet discovered all the technological and engineering fundamentals that we now understand.

Over time, careful regulation of aviation activities along with improvements in technology contributed to significant gains in safety.

In the next major phase of improvement to safety, a focus on individual and crew performance or "Human Factors" further reduced accidents.

A SMS examines safety as an integrated system, across business functions. For more information about SMS, please visit the SMS Explained section.


What is the timeline for implementing an SMS?
Transport Canada experience, as well as experience from the Voluntary Program Participants in the United States, indicate phased implementation of a robust SMS takes approximately three years. Although size and complexity of organizations differ, this timeline appears to remain stable. For operators governed by CFR Part 121; CFR Part 5 is the regulator requirement that must be met regarding their SMS.
What are some lessons learned in implementing SMS?
SMS Voluntary Program Participants have identified lessons learned from their experiences. Although each organization is different, common themes include:
  • The need for ongoing senior leadership commitment
  • The need to integrate SMS training across the organization
  • Data/analytical lessons learned regarding what to capture, how to capture it, and how to distribute it across the organization
  • The need for local FAA participation early in the process
  • The critical role of communication, awareness and culture
  • See Common Issue in SMS Review and Validation (PDF)
Are there any precedents for SMS in other countries and/or industries?
SMS resources from other countries include:

Please visit the Reference: Links section for more information.

Validation & Assessments

How will the effectiveness of an organization's SMS be assessed?
For operators governed by CFR Part 121; CFR Part 5 is the regulator requirement that must be met regarding their SMS. The FAA has several documents published as guidance documents that align with Part 5 as well as ICAO requirements. These should be used during the developmental and implementation stages of the operator's SMS. Please visit the Reference Library.

Some product/service providers may be eligible to participate in the Voluntary Program. Please see the Flight Standards SMS Program Manager in the contacts, for additional information concerning Voluntary development. Documents associated with the rulemaking project that led to the publication of CFR Part 5 are available at under Docket No. FAA-2009-0671.

Training and Communications

Where can I obtain the latest information about SMS?
Please visit the Reference section for historical and recent information about SMS.
Are there any SMS related training courses available?
Please visit the Training section for more information about publicly available SMS training.
Who can I speak with if I have a question about SMS?
Please visit the Contacts section for specific contact information. Additionally, detailed information about SMS, as it applies to your particular operational environment and contact information can also be found on each sector.

Last updated: Thursday, March 03, 2022