Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for Safety Management Systems (SMS) Implementation
- Why did it take more than 10 years for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to issue the final rule?
- As an Airport Operator, why is SMS important to me?
- Why does the FAA require SMS at certain part 139 airports but not others?
- Why does part 139 SMS for Airports look different from other FAA SMSs, like part 121 for Air Carriers?
- What is the difference between “internal” SMS and “external” SMS?
- When does the part 139 SMS rule go into effect?
- How do I start implementing SMS for my airport?
- How do I determine if my airport meets one of the final rule’s triggering criteria?
- My airport meets one of the three triggers, do I have to implement SMS?
- How do I apply for a waiver?
- Does the SMS requirement apply to my entire airport?
- My airport does not meet any of the three triggers, may I still implement an SMS to support my airport’s certification program?
- My airport implemented SMS before the final rule became effective. Does that mean I am done?
- What if my airport’s established SMS does not match the part 139 SMS requirements?
- What happens if my airport is no longer required to have SMS?
- My airport already has a Safety Policy – do we still have to implement SMS?
- What happens if a tenant is required to have their own SMS?
The Implementation Plan and the ACM/SMS Manual
- Does the FAA have to approve changes made to our SMS Implementation Plan?
- Is the SMS Implementation Plan or Manual eligible for federal funding?
- My airport has an established SMS. Can we get FAA acceptance of our SMS Manual immediately?
- Is my SMS Manual considered part of my ACM?
- Is there any guidance on what my SMS Manual or my ACM update should look like?
- Does the FAA need to approve the SMS Manual and any changes to the SMS Manual if I include it as an exhibit to my approved ACM?
- What will the FAA Airport Certification Inspector look for when reviewing my Implementation Plan?
- What will the FAA Airport Certification Safety Inspector be looking for in my SMS Manual and/or ACM update?
- Will I see a change in how FAA inspects my airport once I start implementing my SMS?
Other SMS Subjects
- What does “fully implemented” mean?
- Who is required to get SMS training at my airport?
- Do I have to purchase an approved SMS software?
About the Part 139 Rule
1. Why did it take more than 10 years for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to issue the final rule?
The FAA took a methodical, collaborative approach to the airport SMS requirement, starting with FAA-funded pilot studies at more than 30 participating airports of various size and operations. Using lessons learned from the initial pilot studies, the FAA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in October 2010. We received many valuable comments to our initial proposal and helpful data from our pilot study programs, which prompted the agency to develop an improved proposal. To allow additional opportunity to comment on those revisions, the FAA issued a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (SNPRM) in July 2016. The final rule is based on the comments received in the SNPRM and a third open comment period in 2021.
For more information, see the Airport SMS Pilot Studies.
2. As an Airport Operator, why is SMS important to me?
The development and implementation of SMS is the next step in the continuing evolution of aviation safety. It improves safety at the organizational level through enhanced communication and proactive risk management. Therefore, the FAA is pursuing an aviation-wide approach that would require SMS implementation by organizations in the best position to prevent future air transportation accidents and incidents, including at certain certificated airports.
An SMS provides the framework to support a positive safety culture. An SMS includes repeatable and systematic processes to proactively manage safety. Decision-making processes are structured, consistent, defendable, measurable, and data-driven. Hazards are identified and safety risk controls implemented before an accident or incident occurs. Safety Assurance processes, including program and performance evaluation, provide a means for continuous safety oversight; therefore, allowing for a more efficient, smoother, and safer airfield operation.
3. Why does the FAA require SMS at certain part 139 airports but not others?
SMS ensures safety in air transportation by helping airports proactively identify and mitigate hazards, thereby reducing the possibility or recurrence of air transportation accidents and incidents. The final rule is the next critical step in the FAA’s ongoing transition to a more streamlined and performance-based regulatory framework for airports. Airport SMS will evolve the FAA’s oversight processes to focus FAA involvement on areas of highest safety risk.
The final rule only applies to a certain number of part 139 airports because we applied a risk-based approach to the rule’s applicability. To minimize the regulatory burden on all certificated airports, we chose to require SMS only at the certificated airports with the highest passenger enplanements, with the largest total operations, and that host international air traffic. We estimate the airports triggered under any of the three criteria capture over 90 percent of air carrier passenger traffic in the United States.
4. Why does part 139 SMS for Airports look different from other FAA SMSs, like part 121 for Air Carriers?
We recognize there are inherent differences in the operation and governance of an airport and an air carrier. Based on a review of these differences, we determined the rulemakings should be separate. However, both part 5 and part 139 SMS are structured in accordance with international frameworks, and the part 139 SMS requirements track closely with those of part 5.
5. What is the difference between “internal” SMS and “external” SMS?
The Office of Airports serves as an airport development partner through approval actions and Federal financial assistance program administration and as a regulator through part 139. Consequently, the Office of Airports has developed two distinct SMSs:
Internal SMS – To meet FAA’s State Safety Program (SSP) requirements, FAA Order 8000.369, Safety Management System, requires FAA organizations, including the Office of Airports, to establish SMS implementation activities for their own organizations. The Office of Airports issued FAA Order 5200.11, FAA Airports (ARP) Safety Management System, to provide the basis for sustaining SMS within ARP. This is how the agency applies the principals of SMS to its own operations, approvals, and actions.
External SMS – Generally, this refers to SMS programs implemented by an individual airport operator and required by this final rule.
6. When does the part 139 SMS rule go into effect?
The final rule for SMS for Certificated Airports goes into effect 60 days after the rule publishes in the Federal Register. The final rule requires certain 14 CFR part 139 certificate holders to develop, implement, maintain, and adhere to an airport SMS. The rule identifies the triggering criteria that determine if the SMS rule applies to your part 139 certificated airport. Deadlines for the submission of required documents and full implementation of the SMS vary based on your airport’s triggering criteria and are tied to the effective date of the final rule. You will have between 4 to 5 years to fully implement your SMS, depending on your airport’s triggering criteria. Check the FAA External SMS website for a list of identified applicable airports.
7. How do I start implementing SMS for my airport?
The FAA External SMS webpage contains background and links to the final rule and all the supporting guidance and reference material needed to develop and implement your SMS. We recommend reading the final rule. Then take a look at Advisory Circular 150/5200-37, Safety Management Systems for Airports, which provides guidance on how to meet the final rule requirements.
8. How do I determine if my airport meets one of the final rule’s triggering criteria?
The FAA maintains a list of airports required to implement the part 139 SMS rule. Refer to the FAA External SMS webpage for more information. We plan to conduct an annual applicability review at the end of each calendar year, once the rule goes into effect. After each annual review, we will update the list of qualifying airports and send a letter to each airport operator advising of any change in the airport’s qualification.
9. My airport meets one of the three triggers; do I have to implement SMS?
Yes. However, if your airport qualifies exclusively under the international services trigger and has no tenant on the airport required to comply with an SMS requirement imposed by any applicable law or regulation of its country of origin or any other applicable governing jurisdiction, then you may submit a formal, written request to seek a waiver from the part 139 Subpart E SMS requirement. Requests must be submitted to the appropriate FAA Regional Airports Division Manager and include appropriate justification for the waiver request. The FAA will review each waiver request and may ask for additional information.
An airport operators granted a waiver from the part 139 Subpart E SMS requirement must report to the FAA every 2 years whether it has had any change in international air carrier service or other tenants that affects its applicability for part 139 SMS requirements.
10. How do I apply for a waiver?
Visit the FAA External SMS webpage for more information on the waiver eligibility and guidance on how to apply for a waiver from the part 139 Subpart E SMS requirements.
11. Does the SMS requirement apply to my entire airport?
No, the final rule requires the SMS to apply to all movement and non-movement areas of your airfield. Movement area is defined in §139.5, but this final rule adds a definition for non-movement area.
You may choose to voluntarily implement your SMS in other areas of your airport. We encourage airport operators who choose to expand their SMS to other areas of the airport to use a standalone SMS Manual since that Manual will be “accepted” by the FAA and maintained separate from the Airport Certification Manual (ACM).
12. My airport does not meet any of the three triggers; can I still implement an SMS to support my airport’s certification program?
Yes. In fact, we strongly encourage voluntary implementation of SMS. Airports that have already implemented SMS experience a variety of benefits, including decreased incident rates and enhanced communications. Advisory Circular 150/5200-37 provides many examples for developing and implementing an airport SMS.
However, if you elect to implement an SMS program voluntarily, you should maintain documentation separate from your Airport Certification Manual (ACM) because it is not a regulatory requirement for your airport.
13. My airport implemented SMS before the final rule became effective. Does that mean I am done?
If your airport meets one of the triggers, the final rule requires you to provide an Implementation Plan detailing how you will comply with the final rule. Implementation Plans are scalable and flexible and Advisory Circular 150/5200-37 provides examples and templates. We recommend using a gap analysis to help you identify whether your airport has already completed the elements required under the final rule. The FAA will not accept a gap analysis alone, in lieu of the Implementation Plan. Your assigned FAA Airport Certification Inspector can assist you with implementation questions.
14. What if my airport’s established SMS does not match the part 139 SMS requirements?
If your airport meets one of the three triggers, your SMS must comply with the final rule requirements [ref §139.401(a)], which include the submission of an Implementation Plan [ref §139.403(a-b)]. To assist you in developing your Implementation Plan, we recommend conducting a gap analysis to identify inconsistencies between existing programs and the final rule requirements.
15. What happens if my airport is no longer required to have SMS?
For an airport that initially qualified under any of the triggers but no longer qualifies due to a status change, the airport operator is required to continue to develop, deploy, or adhere to the SMS for the longest of either 24 consecutive calendar months after full implementation or 24 consecutive calendar months from the date your airport no longer qualifies under a trigger. You may also end your SMS immediately upon surrendering your part 139 Airport Operating Certificate.
16. My airport already has a Safety Policy – do we still have to implement SMS?
Yes, if your airport meets one of the three triggering criteria, you still have to implement an airport SMS. A Safety Policy is only one component of SMS. An SMS also has processes and procedures for collecting data, performing risk management, safety assurance, and training and promotion elements. Your Safety Policy will become a key component of your SMS.
17. What happens if a tenant is required to have their own SMS?
A tenant’s SMS and that of a certificate holder are independent, but there can be advantages for cross-communication. The final rule allows airports to enter into data sharing and reporting arrangements with air carrier tenants that are required to maintain a SMS under part 5, rather than setting up their own reporting systems for those areas covered by both regulations. Such arrangements allow tenants to share with the airport operator any hazard report submitted through the tenants’ confidential employee reporting system. This reduces the burden of having to report hazards under two different reporting systems and fosters cooperation and increased communication of safety issues among interested parties, while avoiding gaps in SMS coverage.
The Implementation Plan and the ACM/SMS Manual
18. Does the FAA have to approve changes made to our SMS Implementation Plan?
No. The rule only requires FAA approval of the initial submittal of the Implementation Plan. The Implementation Plan is meant to serve as a tool to help an airport operator develop and implement the various components and elements of SMS within the prescribed deadlines. Therefore, an airport operator is not required to submit changes to the approved Implementation Plan. Once approved, an airport operator may make necessary adjustments to maintain compliance with the prescribed deadlines.
19. Is the SMS Implementation Plan or Manual eligible for federal funding?
Certain products associated with an SMS are eligible expenses, including the development of an SMS Manual and Implementation Plan and procurement of SMS software. Please contact your FAA Regional or Airport District Office for specific eligibility information.
20. My airport has an established SMS. Can we get FAA acceptance of our SMS Manual immediately?
No. Every airport required to implement SMS must submit an Implementation Plan for FAA approval [ref §139.403(a-b)]. An existing SMS may require only minor modifications to comply with the final rule. The Implementation Plan will include a description of any existing programs, policies, procedures, or manuals that you intend to use to meet the SMS requirements.
21. Is my SMS Manual considered part of my ACM?
The final rule allows you the choice of either documenting your airport SMS in a separate SMS Manual or directly in your airport’s FAA-approved Airport Certification Manual (ACM). However, if those changes require edits to the cross-references in your approved ACM, you will still need to submit an update with those applicable ACM pages for FAA approval [ref §139.205]. If you choose to use a separate SMS Manual, you will incorporate that standalone Manual in your ACM by reference.
22. Is there any guidance on what my SMS Manual or my ACM update should look like?
Yes. Advisory Circular 150/5200-37 includes guidance on how to document your SMS. We highly encourage you to visit the FAA External SMS webpage for more background and links to supporting guidance and reference documentation. Remember, while the final rule requires you to document the framework of your SMS, your SMS should correspond in size, nature, and complexity to your airport’s operations, activities, hazards, and risks.
23. Does the FAA need to approve the SMS Manual and any changes to the SMS Manual if I include it as an exhibit to my approved ACM?
If you choose to add your SMS Manual as an exhibit to your ACM, instead of incorporation by reference, any change to the SMS Manual will require immediate submittal to the FAA because part 139 requires you to have an “approved” and complete ACM on file. While we are “accepting” an SMS Manual, inclusion of that Manual as an exhibit or attachment to your ACM does not alleviate your requirement to have a complete and approved ACM. This is why we highly encourage those airport operators choosing to develop a standalone SMS Manual to incorporate by reference so that you have flexibility to make changes without immediate submission to the FAA.
24. What will the FAA Airport Certification Inspector look for when reviewing my Implementation Plan?
Your FAA Airport Certification Inspector will review your Implementation Plan to ensure that it addresses how your airport plans to meet the requirements of §139.403(b), includes a schedule for implementing the SMS components and elements, and describes any existing programs, policies, or procedures that you intend to use to meet the SMS requirements. The current version of Advisory Circular 150/5200-37, Appendix C, contains a sample template and checklist, to help you develop your Implementation Plan. The Airport Certification Safety Inspector will also have policy guidance and training to accurately review and approve the implementation plan.
25. What will the FAA Airport Certification Safety Inspector be looking for in my SMS Manual and/or ACM update?
The Airport Certification Safety Inspector will make sure your SMS Manual and/or ACM update has all the necessary SMS elements required in the regulation or cross-references as appropriate. Certificate holders are all encouraged to use the prepared checklists and guidance available in AC 150/5200-37 and the FAA External SMS webpage.
26. Will I see a change in how the FAA inspects my airport once I start implementing my SMS?
Not at first. Your FAA Airport Certification Safety Inspector will continue to use the methods prescribed in FAA Order 5280.5, Airport Certification Program Handbook, for conducting the inspection of your airport. As you begin implementing your SMS, your Inspector will likely ask you for a status update to verify that you continue to track toward compliance with your airport’s implementation deadline.
Once fully implemented, Inspectors will leverage the SMS to assist their assessment of an airport’s compliance with part 139. For airports with a fully implemented SMS and that have a consistent history of compliance with the requirements of part 139, the FAA will eventually transition to a system-based inspection allowing an Inspector to focus on areas of greater risk. As a consistent history of compliance under SMS develops, the FAA will have data to support modifying the duration of time between an airport’s periodic inspections. The FAA will continue to use a traditional approach and cycle for inspections at airports without an SMS, with higher risks, or a history of non-compliance. We also retain our ability to use a traditional inspection cycle for airports with a fully implemented SMS when deemed necessary.
Other SMS Subjects
27. What does “fully implemented” mean?
“Fully implemented” means all of the components and elements identified in the implementation plan [ref §139.403(b)] are in place and active. A “fully implemented” SMS does not mean a “fully mature” SMS, as implementation is only the starting point of a continuing cycle of collection, assessment, and adjustment for the life of the operation.
28. Who is required to get SMS training at my airport?
It is important to note the final rule includes a “training” requirement and an “orientation” requirement. Only those employees with responsibilities under the airport’s SMS require SMS training appropriate to their roles. For example, airport employees’ tasks with reviewing safety reports or conducting Safety Risk Management would need training specific in hazard analysis.
All other persons authorized with access to movement and non-movement areas must at least receive safety awareness orientation, which includes hazard identification and reporting. Unlike training, this safety awareness orientation can be accomplished via printed materials like a brochure, poster, or advertisement.
Advisory Circular 150/5200-37 provides additional information on training and safety awareness orientation.
29. Do I have to purchase an approved SMS software?
No. The final rule does not require that you use special SMS software. The FAA is also not in a position to approve SMS software. Airports that choose to purchase software should carefully examine the current and future software’s features to ensure it will meet their specific needs.