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Benefits and Challenges of Implementing a Safety Management System

By Ken Ibold

August 1, 2016


What is a Safety Management System (SMS)? It’s a prescribed method of recording safety initiatives, identifying hazards, analyzing the risk posed by those hazards, developing plans for mitigating the risk, and tracking results.

An SMS program contains four key elements:

  1. Safety Policy
  2. Safety Risk Management
  3. Safety Assurance
  4. Safety Promotion

Each of these elements serves to ensure that safety becomes an integral part of an airport’s culture and that the airport focuses on continually improving its safety environment.


For years, SMS has helped private companies identify safety hazards before they lead to injury or damage. At airports, SMS can be designed to integrate into the safety programs airports already have in place. An SMS program is intended to not only reduce the probability of aircraft accidents/incidents on the airfield, but also help protect workers, passengers, and visitors by creating a culture that visibly promotes values safe practices.

An SMS program can be simple or complex, depending on the specific airport. There are many factors that go into developing an SMS that will comply with FAA requirements.

When your airport is operating under an SMS program that complies with upcoming FAA requirements, it won’t be much different from how it operates now. Safety issues will be tracked more formally, and there may be slightly more record keeping required, but most of the processes that are in place now will be used to identify safety issues and track corrections.


That’s not to say there won’t be any changes. Expect some adjustments to job descriptions, some additional training, and a formalized tracking system for safety issues.

A bigger set of changes might be found on the administrative side of the airport. Data collection – and protection – is a key element. The relationship between the airport and its tenants will need to evolve to include the sharing of safety information in some parts of the airport.

Upcoming FAA Ruling

The upcoming requirement for many Part 139 airports to create and maintain their own SMS programs is an opportunity to enhance the airport’s operations, but it does have some unique requirements and obligations. Ask us how this new rule might affect your airport.

Topics: Insights, Aviation

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About the Author

Ken is an aviation planner responsible for the execution of safety management systems, FAA licensed commercial spaceports, airport master plans, feasibility studies, capital improvement plan development, and airport layout plans. As an expert in aviation safety and risk management, he’s recognized as an aviation safety subject matter expert by national media. He’s a qualified facilitator for FAA Airports Division Safety Risk Management panels, and he’s authored several technical papers, articles, and two books.

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