Federal agencies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”), a branch of the U.S. Department of Transportation, are continuously working to improve air safety, and the enabling legislation for such agencies provides them with rulemaking power to accomplish the goal of improved safety. With the recent series of commercial airline crashes, air safety is once again a source of anxiety for many air travelers. Although statistically, decade after decade, air travel continues to prove itself as by far one of the safest modes of travel, air crashes capture the attention of the public in a way that is uniquely gripping as compared to other transportation disasters. The recent commercial crashes, MH 370 on March 6 (location unknown), MH 317 on July 17 (Eastern Ukraine), Trans Asia Airlines flight GE 222 on July 23 (Penghu Islands) and Air Algerie flight 5017 on July 24 (Northern Mali) collectively represent approximately 700 fatal injuries to passengers and crew in the space of 138 days.
Although none of these incidents occurred inside United States-controlled airspace, parts of U.S. Airspace are unquestionably some of the busiest in the world. Regulation and control of U.S. Airspace is controlled by federal law which preempts state law in all such matters.
On May 30, 2014, the FAA issued Order JO 1000.37A, entitled “Air Traffic Organization Safety Management System” (“Order”). The Order will take effect on September 1, 2014. This will provide a brief overview and summary of key aspects of the Order.
The mission of the Air Traffic Organization (“ATO”) is to provide a safe and efficient series of air navigation services in the National Airspace System and in the United States-controlled international oceanic air space. This includes communications, navigation, surveillance and air traffic management services. The Order specifically establishes the Safety Management System (“SMS”) as the foundation upon with the ATO’s safety efforts are conducted and measured.
The SMS is a multidisciplinary, integrated, and closed-loop framework used to help maintain safe and efficient air navigation services and infrastructure. The Order requires the ATO SMS to be a framework for three specific areas:
- The development of safety policy and processes
- The promotion of a safety culture that identifies and reports activities that are potentially or actually detrimental to system safety; and
- The identification, continuous monitoring, auditing, and evaluation of hazards and the assessment and mitigation of safety risk within the National Airspace System (“NAS”) and United States-controlled international/oceanic airspace.
Structure of The Safety Management System
The four structural components that make up the SMS are
- Safety Policy. This contains the requirements, standards and guidance to establish and execute SMS and promote a positive safety culture.
- Safety Risk Management. This contains the processes and procedures established and followed ty ATO safety practitioners to identify hazards, analyze and asses risks.
- Safety Assurance. This consists of the processes and procedures within the ATO SMS that ensure the ATO is operating according to expectations and requirements. Safety Assurance provides validation of SR< efforts for proper operations, systems and equipment and identification of adverse safety trends.
- Safety Promotion. Communication of proper safety practices through advocacy of the principles of a positive safety culture, employee training and compliance with ATO orders.
The bulk of the contents of the Order provide the intended mechanics for implementation and execution of the SMS and are beyond the scope of this summary. However, with the skies becoming ever more crowded and the recent concerns over pilot fatigue, deficient CRM with some airlines, fly-by-wire and ever more complex aircraft, SMS appears to be a step in the right direction. Whether the framework and structural components can be executed remains to be seen.
Olson Brooksby PC maintains an active aviation practice including the defense of aircraft and component part product liability claims and negligence claims resulting in personal injury and property damage and aviation related commercial disputes.