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Fact Sheet – Safety Management Systems

For Immediate Release

November 4, 2010
Contact: Les Dorr or Alison Duquette
Phone: 202-267-3883

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is always working to take the U.S. aviation system to the next level of safety. Safety Management Systems (SMS) are beginning to play a key role in making an extraordinarily safe system even safer. With SMS, the FAA and the aviation industry can examine data from everyday operations to isolate trends that may be precursors to incidents or accidents.

What is a Safety Management System?

Safety Management Systems for the FAA, air carriers, airports and other certificate holders integrate modern safety risk management and safety assurance concepts into standardized, proactive systems. In SMS, safety management is a fundamental process on a par with all other management processes. An SMS has four key pieces:


An SMS presumes there will always be risks in aviation that must be found, and to the greatest extent possible, controlled. To do that, it’s critical to have a strong safety policy in place that provides a detailed account of top management’s objectives and expectations for safety. It also sets up a framework for plans, organizational structures and accountability for all employees.

Risk management

An SMS uses safety risk management in all activities, including training, maintenance, dispatch and operations. It identifies hazards by drawing data from sources such as operations analysis, employee reporting systems, incident reports and audits. The next step is gauging how likely the hazard is to result in an incident and the potential consequences. Finally, risk management determines how much, if any, risk is acceptable. Armed with this information, managers can develop ways to implement and track risk controls.

Safety assurance

Making sure an SMS remains effective after risk controls are in place is critical. The safety assurance process analyzes data and reviews decision-making not only to make sure risk control strategies are still working, but also to highlight ways to improve or correct those methods.


An SMS must promote safety and establish a safety culture. It must include processes for training people in safety-critical areas, and effective two-way communications channels between managers and employees on safety matters.

More Than Compliance

The FAA is moving to implement SMS and system safety-based oversight.

The agency issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on SMS in 2009 that asked for public input on questions such as who should be required to implement an SMS, what type of records and documents should be kept, what regulations may already cover SMS and any concerns about making sure such systems are effective.

Subsequently, an Aviation Rulemaking Committee, an industry advisory group the FAA chartered to provide recommendations, reviewed the comments resulting from the ANPRM. In its March 2010 report, the committee recommended that the agency proceed to implement SMS – with appropriate protections – for most segments of aviation.

On October 7, 2010, the FAA issued a proposed rule that would require airports certificated under Part 139 to establish SMS for all airfield and ramp areas.

Congressional action has mandated that the FAA develop a rule requiring all Part 121 operators to implement an SMS. The legislation directs the agency to publish a final rule by August 2012. The proposed rule was published in November 2010.

The FAA is considering SMS regulations for other groups of aviation service providers, including Part 135 operators and Part 145 repair stations. The agency is sponsoring voluntary SMS implementation by Part 121, 135, and 145 organizations to provide learning and experience for both industry and the FAA in SMS development, implementation and oversight.

For more information, see:

SMS Advisory Circular:

FAA order on SMS: