ACI-NA File Comments on FAA's Internal SMS Guidance

On July 22, ACI-NA submitted its comments regarding the FAA’s internal SMS program as established by FAA Order 5200.11, FAA Airports (ARP) Safety Management System, particularly concerning the associated draft Implementation Guidance.  This is not to be confused with the Part 139 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on SMS, in which comments were filed on July 5, 2011.

As we note at the beginning of our comments, U.S. airports, as well as ACI-NA, continue to be committed to safety and show a willingness to consider and even embrace SMS and its proactive, data-driven approach to safety that permeates all levels of the airport organization. With that said, we remain concerned with both the internal and external SMS programs.

As background, Order 5200.11 officially took effect on June 1, 2011.  At about the same time, citing resources, training, and staffing constraints, the FAA limited the mandatory applicability of the order only to large hub airports.  Despite this limitation, the FAA has given Airports Regional Offices and Airports District Offices (ADOs) broad discretion to apply the Order to smaller airports, noting the regional offices and ADOs “may elect to conduct SRM at airports earlier than the above schedule in cases where it is deemed beneficial and appropriate.”  At ACI-NA, we have already heard of a number of cases where small and medium hub airports have been required to initiate SRM activities.

Activities that are subject to SRM requirements include planning and construction activities that involve airport layout plan (ALP) updates, design and construction efforts that have construction safety and phasing plans (CSPPs), and requests for modifications of design standards (MOSs).  Put more simply, the SRM requirements in Order 5200.11 will affect practically all planning, design, and construction activities at your airport.  They also will affect many of your periodic maintenance activities.   

What do these SRM requirements mean for you?  If the program is implemented as described in the Implementation Guidance, you will be on the hook for a lion’s share of the costs of SRM activities.  You will also be responsible for preparing a number of documents—including a project proposal summary and supporting planning and risk analysis documentation—to facilitate SRM efforts as well as providing staff and facilitators for FAA-required SRM panels.  Finally, you will be required to sign off on SRM panel recommendations and, quoting directly from the draft Implementation Guidance, “comply with any risk mitigation measures that fall within [airport operators’] area of responsibility.”

In summary, the FAA’s internal SMS program will likely lengthen your planning and design processes and increase their costs.  In addition, you may find yourself committed to potentially costly and difficult risk mitigation activities based on SRM panel findings.

ACI-NA has been very concerned about the impact of these costly and problematic “internal” regulations.  As we note in our comments to the FAA, our concerns include the inappropriate regulation of airports via Order 5200.11, the FAA’s commitment of airports to pay the costs associated with implementing Order 5200.11 absent formal regulatory evaluations, the lack of clearly defined staffing and resource plans to support required SRM activities, and the lack of defined timelines for conduct of these SRM activities.  We believe that these concerns call into question the effectiveness and practicability of Order 5200.11.

We are committed to working with FAA to find a more manageable approach to implementing Order 5200.11 than is described in the draft Implementation Guidance and encourage you to add your voice to our effort.  In the meantime, however, there are some important steps you can take to be better prepared for SRM requirements. 

  • Incorporate safety risk analyses into airport planning and design activities at an early stage.  Doing so will put you in control of these analyses and enable you to address safety concerns early, before they require costly redesigns or mitigation activities.
  • Strengthen your relationships with local FAA representatives both from the Office of Airports and the Air Traffic Organization and involve them early in your planning and design processes.  These relationships will be extremely critical during SRM activities and the better informed your FAA representatives are about the project, the better prepared they can be when they participate in SRM panels.
  • Set aside a contingency for unexpected safety issues that arise during planning and design efforts.  Such contingencies will vary with the complexity and safety effects of the proposed project, but
  • Consult with your legal counsel to determine how SRM activities can be best protected from inappropriate public disclosure.  Such disclosure can leave you exposed to legal liability and can also serve to chill honest and open discussions of safety issues, which are critical to the effectiveness of SMS.

If you have questions or comments please contact:

Chris Oswaldat or 202.293.4539
Matt Griffin at or 202.293.4548