FAA's air traffic organisation moves forward with SMS

Washington DC
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The US FAA's air traffic organization (ATO) has received internal approval to continue using a safety management system (SMS) the agency has been developing for the past five year. Based on ICAO standards, the SMS contains four main components - safety policy, safety assurance, safety risk management and safety promotion.

The FAA has been developing the program for agency-wide deployment since 2005, looking to ICAO and foreign aviation regulators for best practices before creating a custom version. The agency initially focused on ATO, its largest organization, in part to help safely usher in its next generation air transportation system (NextGen). The agency says its safety and airports organizations will have similar programs in place by October.

"An effective safety management system lets us manage both the risks and the challenges of introducing new technology into the National Airspace System," says FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt. "Practically speaking, SMS is as important as the new technology itself. We're able to assess risks with a standardized approach. SMS will be a huge boost for NextGen."

The FAA says the ATO SMS will serve as a framework that will allow it to identify, assess and manage safety risks associated with changes to the National Airspace System (NAS). As NextGen technology is introduced into the airspace system, SMS calls for air traffic safety teams to conduct a risk analyses and document the technology's safety impact.

For the past five years, the FAA has used SMS to conduct reviews for enroute air traffic control system modernization and for the automatic dependent surveillance - broadcast (ADS-B) technology before it was declared operational in the Gulf of Mexico in December, says Huan Nguyen, director of safety management systems for the ATO. From a broader perspective, Nguyen says the system will be used for "any changes to the NAS under the purview of the ATO", regardless of the size of the change. "We will make changes in a consistent manner for everything," he adds.