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FAA Pressed for Guidance on ICAO SMS Deadline

Atlanta, GA, October 21, 2010

During today's session at NBAA2010, industry representatives pressed senior Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials to provide guidance on how operators should deal with a fast-approaching November 18 deadline from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) regarding safety management systems (SMS). Currently, the U.S. does not have any formal SMS requirements for noncommercial operators, and there is concern that U.S.-registered business aircraft that fly to countries that already have SMS requirements, such as Bermuda, might find themselves ensnared in an international regulatory morass.

Several industry participants in the Meet the Regulators session, including Kathy Perfetti of the International Business Aviation Council, which developed the International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO), an industry standard that includes provisions for an SMS, suggested that IS-BAO be endorsed by the FAA as meeting the ICAO requirement.

Margaret Gilligan, the FAA associate administrator for aviation safety who headed the six-member agency panel that participated in the session, conceded that a short-term solution is needed. Gilligan disclosed that the FAA is negotiating with its international regulatory partners, including the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), but that the complexity of the U.S. aviation system makes the task of developing SMS regulations more challenging than it is for some other countries.

Mel Cintron, manager of the FAA General Aviation and Commercial Division, added that the agency's goal is to find a way to meet the intent of the ICAO rule, possibly through recognition of IS-BAO. However, the FAA does not want to be proscriptive.

Another vexing international issue is the status of the U.S. bilateral aviation safety agreement with EASA. Because language included in FAA reauthorization legislation would mandate FAA inspection of foreign repair stations, Europe has responded by proposing that U.S. pilots and aircraft might need to be certified directly by EASA, rather than having their FAA-issued approvals accepted under the bilateral agreement. Gilligan noted that FAA officials, as well as U.S. operators, are frustrated by this development, calling the situation a "quagmire."

FAA officials responded to several other issues raised during the session.

  • The regulators said they are looking for ways to reduce the paperwork associated with letters of authorization for reduced vertical separation minimums approvals.
  • The FAA and foreign regulatory agencies remain concerned about who has operational control of airplanes owned by trusts, but U.S. officials believe the re-registration rule will help clarify the status of those airplanes.
  • The FAA acknowledged that treating tire-pressure checks and avionics database updates by FAR Part 135 operators as a maintenance item is antiquated, but that the rulemaking that would be required to allow pilots to perform this safety task is a relatively low priority.
  • In response to a complaint that it takes an inordinate amount of time for the FAA's aircraft certification organization to approve seemingly simple requests, agency officials said they need more resources to deal with the backlog of projects. Gilligan said the FAA is "very mindful of the sequencing of requests," but must address higher-priority safety items, such as the numerous initiatives required by Congress in the wake of the Colgan Air crash.