Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for Safety Management Systems (SMS) Implementation

FAQs

  1. Why did it take more than 10 years for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to issue the final rule?
  2. As an Airport Operator, why is SMS important to me?
  3. Why does the FAA require SMS at certain part 139 airports but not others?
  4. Why does part 139 SMS for Airports look different from other FAA SMSs, like part 121 for Air Carriers?
  5. What is the difference between “internal” SMS and “external” SMS?

Getting Started

  1. When does the part 139 SMS rule go into effect?
  2. How do I start implementing SMS for my airport?
  3. How do I determine if my airport meets one of the final rule’s triggering criteria?
  4. My airport meets one of the three triggers, do I have to implement SMS?
  5. How do I apply for a waiver?
  6. Does the SMS requirement apply to my entire airport?
  7. My airport does not meet any of the three triggers, may I still implement an SMS to support my airport’s certification program?
  8. My airport implemented SMS before the final rule became effective.  Does that mean I am done?
  9. What if my airport’s established SMS does not match the part 139 SMS requirements?
  10. What happens if my airport is no longer required to have SMS?
  11. My airport already has a Safety Policy – do we still have to implement SMS?
  12. What happens if a tenant is required to have their own SMS?
  13. Are part 139 airports in “Inactive” status required to comply with new part 139 SMS requirements?
  14. If the FAA granted a waiver from part 139 SMS requirements, will this automatically renew every 2 years?
  15. We are midway through our SMS development and implementation. Can I still apply for a waiver?
  16. FAA has granted a waiver to SMS requirements at my airport. However, a new air carrier recently started passenger operations under 14 CFR Part 135.  Does the waiver still apply?
  17. We just obtained our Airport Operating Certificate (AOC) after April 24, 2023.  Will the SMS implementation requirements apply to our airport?

The Implementation Plan and the ACM/SMS Manual

  1. Does the FAA have to approve changes made to our SMS Implementation Plan?
  2. Is the SMS Implementation Plan or Manual eligible for federal funding?
  3. My airport has an established SMS.  Can we get FAA acceptance of our SMS Manual immediately?
  4. Is my SMS Manual considered part of my ACM?
  5. Is there any guidance on what my SMS Manual or my ACM update should look like?
  6. 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?
  7. Does a part 139 certificate holder have to implement a SMS program if the tenant FBO serves international operations?
  8. Will the FAA provide sample language for the Airport Certification Manual for referencing a separate SMS manual?
  9. For airports issued SMS waivers, should the certificate holder still update the Airport Certification Manual to include a new SMS section?
  10. Can I submit our Implementation Plan and SMS Manual at the same time?

FAA Inspections

  1. What will the FAA Airport Certification Inspector look for when reviewing my Implementation Plan?
  2. What will the FAA Airport Certification Safety Inspector be looking for in my SMS Manual and/or ACM update?
  3. Can a part 139 certificate holder be found in noncompliance with Part 139 for not following its SMS Manual?
  4. If a part 139 certificate holder wants to expand its SMS program to include both airside and landside operations, would FAA enforce the portion of the program that applies only to landside operations?

Other SMS Subjects

  1. Who is required to get SMS training at my airport?
  2. 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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Getting Started

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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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15.  What happens if my airport is no longer required to have SMS?

For an airport that initially qualified to implement SMS under §139.401(a) but no longer qualifies due to a status change, the certificate holder may be required to continue to develop, implement, maintain and adhere to its SMS.  It would depend on how far along the certificate holder is in the SMS process.

If the certificate holder has implemented its SMS, it would be required to continue to comply with Part 139 SMS requirements for the longest of either 24 consecutive calendar months after implementation or 24 consecutive calendar months from the date the airport no longer qualifies under a trigger. FAA considers implementation of an Airport SMS to be the date the certificate holder certifies to FAA that it has implemented its SMS, in accordance with §139.403(d).

If a certificate holder has not certified to FAA that it has implemented its SMS and is notified by FAA that it is no longer qualifies to implement SMS, the provision of 139.401(h) to continue to develop, implement, maintain, and adhere to an Airport SMS would not apply. However, if an airport later changes hub classification or otherwise meets the criteria of §139.401(a), the certificate holder again would have to comply with Part 139 requirements, including submitting an SMS Implementation Plan for FAA approval within 18 months (see §139.403(a)(4)). As such, FAA highly recommends that certificate holders of airports that regularly move between Small Hub and Non-hub classifications or cross the threshold of the 100,000 operations criteria from one year to the next, continue to develop and implement their SMS to avoid the uncertainty and cost of restarting the SMS process.

A certificate holder that no longer qualifies to implement SMS under §139.401(a) but chooses to do so voluntarily should coordinate with its assigned FAA Airport Certification and Safety Inspector to determine if changes to the Airport Certification Manual are required. A certificate holder may voluntarily comply with any Part 139 requirements that are not applicable to that airport; however, FAA will enforce all provisions of an FAA-approved Airport Certification Manual, even if portions of the manual are included on a voluntary basis.

Regarding an airport’s change of status, FAA will make the determination as to whether an airport qualifies to implement SMS under §139.401(a). On an annual basis, FAA will review and revise, as appropriate, the list of qualifying airports and notify certificate holders if there has been a status change (see Frequently Asked Question No. 8).

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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.

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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.

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18. Are part 139 airports in “Inactive” status required to comply with new part 139 SMS requirements?

Yes. Airports that are certificated under part 139 that FAA has placed into Inactive status are still required to comply with all applicable part 139 requirements (see FAA Order 5280-5D, Airport Certification Program Handbook).  This includes SMS requirements under the new part 139, Subpart E, Airport Safety Management System.  However, under certain conditions identified in § 139.401(d), the certificate holder may be able to request a waiver from SMS requirements.

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19. If the FAA granted a waiver from part 139 SMS requirements, will this automatically renew every 2 years?

No.  Part 139 certificate holders that are granted a waiver under § 139.401(d) must submit a new waiver request, with justification, to the FAA prior to the expiration of the current waiver.  The SMS waiver approval letter will state the date the waiver will expire. In the event an SMS waiver is rescinded by the FAA, the certificate holder will have 18 months to submit an SMS Implementation Plan per § 139.403(a)(4).

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20. We are midway through our SMS development and implementation. Can I still apply for a waiver?

Yes.  If you are eligible to request a waiver under 139.401(d), you can submit the waiver request any time before the Implementation Plan due date.  We recommend airports don’t wait too long to submit a waiver request – if the FAA denies your request, you must still submit the Implementation Plan by the required initial deadline.

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21. FAA has granted a waiver to SMS requirements at my airport. However, a new air carrier recently started passenger operations under 14 CFR Part 135.  Does the waiver still apply?

Possibly. If the new tenant air carrier has a regulatory requirement to implement a SMS program, then the part 139 certificate holder may be required to comply with new part 139 SMS requirements.  If the conditions justifying a SMS waiver have changed, the part 139 certificate holder must notify the FAA to determine if the waiver is still applicable.  If a new tenant requires a certificate holder to comply with part 139 SMS requirements, the FAA would rescind the waiver.

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22. We just obtained our Airport Operating Certificate (AOC) after April 24, 2023.  Will the SMS implementation requirements apply to our airport?

Yes, if you meet one of the triggers criteria. As a new AOC holder, under § 139.403(a)(4), you will have 18 months to submit your Implementation Plan regardless of your trigger.  Check to see if the part 139.401(d) waiver requirements apply for your airport.  You may be able to request a waiver.

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The Implementation Plan and the ACM/SMS Manual

23. 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.

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24. 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.

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25. 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.

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26. 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.

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27. 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.

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28. 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.

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29. Does a part 139 certificate holder have to implement a SMS program if the tenant FBO serves international operations?

Possibly. If an airport tenant, including an FBO, has a regulatory requirement to implement a SMS program pursuant to foreign law, that foreign jurisdiction could prevent the tenant from operating into/out of a US airport that does not have an SMS. Having a tenant with this requirement may trigger the Part 139 certificate holder to implement a SMS program as well. Most likely this will only apply to airport tenants serving international air carrier passenger operations. At airports where tenants only serve international General Aviation (GA) operations, the part 139 certificate holder may request a waiver from SMS requirements under § 139.401(d).

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30. Will the FAA provide sample language for the Airport Certification Manual for referencing a separate SMS manual?

Yes. The sample Airport Certification Manual on FAA’s national website is being updated to include a new SMS section.

In accordance with new §139.203(b)(29), part 139 certificate holders required to comply with SMS requirements will need to amend their Airport Certification Manual to include “policies and procedures for the development of, implementation of, maintenance of, and adherence to, the Airport's Safety Management System, as required under subpart E of this part.”  This can be done in a manner similar to other ACM sections that refer to a plan required under part 139, such as the Airport Emergency Plan or the Wildlife Hazard Management Plan.  

The new SMS section in the main body of the Airport Certification Manual can generally state how the certificate holder will comply with new SMS requirements and then refer to the SMS Manual for more specific information. In addition, other sections of the Airport Certification Manual may need to be updated to refer to the SMS Manual and SMS processes, as appropriate.

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31. For airports issued SMS waivers, should the certificate holder still update the Airport Certification Manual to include a new SMS section?

Yes. Certificate holders that receive a waiver from part 139.401(a) SMS requirement should still submit an amendment to the Airport Certification Manual that includes a new Section 401. This new section will state FAA has granted the certificated holder a waiver from SMS requirements, the justification for the waiver, and the waiver expiration date. We also recommend that a copy of the FAA waiver approval letter be included as an appendix.

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32. Can I submit our Implementation Plan and SMS Manual at the same time?

The FAA does not recommend that approach. The rule is structured to phase SMS into your part 139 program. The FAA cautions certificate holders against developing their SMS Implementation Plan and SMS Manual at the same time. Changes to the Implementation Plan may require changes to the SMS Manual. The rule allows 12 months from the time the Implementation Plan is approved by the FAA to submit the SMS Manual. This allows airports to adopt any changes in their Implementation Plan into the SMS Manual draft or ACM revisions.

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FAA Inspections

33. 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.

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34. 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.

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35. Can a part 139 certificate holder be found in noncompliance with Part 139 for not following its SMS Manual?

Yes. FAA will enforce compliance with all part 139 requirements and the Airport Certification Manual, including new SMS requirements. While part 139 SMS requirements allow certificate holders the option of incorporating their SMS program into their Airport Certification Manual or maintaining it as a separate SMS Manual, all certificate holders are required to follow their identified SMS processes, as described in the Airport Certification Manual. Should a certificate holder not comply with SMS processes specified in the Airport Certification Manual, FAA would take appropriate steps to bring the certificate holder into compliance, including administrative, enforcement and/or certificate action.

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36. If a part 139 certificate holder wants to expand its SMS program to include both airside and landside operations, would FAA enforce the portion of the program that applies only to landside operations?

Part 139 SMS requirements specify an airport’s SMS must encompass aircraft operations in both movement areas and non-movement areas. Should a certificate holder choose to include airport areas and operations outside the scope of part 139 in their SMS program, including landside areas and operations, it should be done in a manner so that program elements required for part 139 are contained in a separate, but interoperable module.

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Other SMS Subjects

37. 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.

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38. 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.

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Last updated: Wednesday, January 10, 2024