FAA has yet to set its timeline for regulating safety management systems (SMS) for Part 145 repair stations, but the agency has indicated that it plans to move forward on such a rulemaking and intends to use the recently released notice of proposed rulemaking requiring all Part 121 operations to implement SMS as its template.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) established a Nov. 18 deadline for repair stations and non-commercial operators to have an SMS program in place. It also set a Jan. 1, 2009 deadline for member states to require SMS programs for Part 121 operators. The directive also set Nov. 14, 2013 for manufacturing and design organizations to comply.

Many nations are working toward SMS, but few nations actually have implemented it. FAA has filed a “difference” with ICAO on the SMS directive until it decides how to regulate it within the U.S. industry.

FAA, however, issued the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for Part 121 SMS in early November after Congress set its own deadline for SMS regulation. The Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010, passed last summer, mandated the release of an NPRM within 90 days and a final rule 24 months later. Until that point, the agency had been sifting through comments on an SMS advanced notice of proposed rulemaking issued in July 2009, as well as recommendations from an industry-based Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC).

The NPRM, which was accompanied by a draft advisory circular, regulatory analysis and draft inspector guidance, calls on Part 121 operators to submit an SMS implementation plan to FAA six months after the release of a final rule. Operators then would be required to implement the plans within three years after the final rule is published. FAA estimates that this proposal will cost carriers nearly $711 million over 20 years for the initial SMS development, documentation and ongoing operations. But FAA also believes the resulting benefits in terms of avoided casualties, aircraft damage and accident investigation could exceed $1.14 billion.

Although the proposal only covers Part 121, the agency has stated that the NPRM will provide the groundwork for other facets of the industry. “The FAA has developed these general requirements with the intent that in the future they could be applied to other FAA-regulated entities, such as Part 135 operators, Part 145 repair stations and Part 21 aircraft design and manufacturing organizations and approval holders,” the agency says.

FAA stresses that the SMS proposal outlines “what” is expected rather than “how” carriers must meet the requirement. “This allows for development and implementation of an SMS that matches the size, complexity and business models of diverse organizations in ways appropriate to their unique systems and operating environments,” the agency says. While large carriers may require information technology and statistical analysis experts, smaller operators may not need sophisticated techniques. The agency also reiterates that SMS does not supplant FAA oversight, inspection and audits.

Industry officials say that at first glance, the NPRM appears to largely follow the ARC recommendations. The agency frequently cites the ARC recommendations in the proposal, including a discussion of applicability. The ARC recommends that the agency phase in requirements for different aspects on the industry. While the agency has opted to move ahead initially with Part 121, it is asking for comments on the future application of the general requirements.

The agency also says it does not intend for the Part 121 SMS NPRM to cover contractors, subcontractors or organizations not directly regulated by FAA. “Current processes require air carriers to ensure that the employees or businesses with whom they contract to conduct training or maintenance activities on their behalf are qualified, capable and have the necessary equipment and facilities to perform the work,” the agency says. “This proposal would not expand these existing requirements.” But the agency did solicit comment on potential trickle-down effects that the proposal may have.

FAA knows that operators may have systems in place to meet the proposed SMS requirements, and it says these could be incorporated into an SMS to eliminate duplication. However, it also asks for comments on how to improve the incorporation of existing process into an SMS, as well as how to protect that data.

The SMS proposal would create a new Part 5 to house SMS requirements, centered on four main components for an SMS program—safety policy, safety risk management, safety assurance and safety promotion. While this new Part 5 may not specifically apply to MROs, groups such as The Aircraft Electronics Association stress its future implications for the Part 145 organizations it represents.

Another Piece To Aging Aircraft

Aging aircraft management comes to the forefront again as a new rule aimed at preventing widespread fatigue damage (WFD) takes effect this month. FAA published the final rule in November, several months after the Office of Management and Budget signed off on the rulemaking and nearly four years after FAA issued the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) in April 2006. The rulemaking is the latest in a series of actions designed to address aging aircraft structural fatigue, FAA acknowledges, because other programs cannot predict WFD reliably.

The NPRM had generated substantial opposition, particularly among several airlines that called for deferring or withdrawing the rule due to lack of justifiable safety benefits. In releasing the final rule, the agency acknowledged those comments but cited manufacturers in rebuttle. For instance, “Boeing commented that issuance of this final rule would cast a broad safety net on airframe structural performance,” it says. FAA also argues that there have been several instances of major structural failure in flight due to fatigue.

The rule applies to nearly 4,200 U.S.-registered aircraft that were type certificated after Jan. 1, 1958, have a takeoff weight of at least 75,000 lb. and are operated under either Part 121 or 129. The rule, however, also will cover all future transport aircraft regardless of takeoff weight or operation.

The new requirements call for manufacturers and design approval holders to set flight cycle/hours limits (limits of validity or LOV) before an aircraft must undergo additional inspections for WFD. Manufacturers and design approval holders must be able to demonstrate that the aircraft will remain free from WFD up to the LOV. Manufacturers have between 18-60 months to establish the limits, depending on the age of the aircraft—the older the aircraft, the sooner the deadline. Operators must incorporate the LOVs into maintenance programs within 30-72 months after that, depending on the maintenance program.

FAA Rulemaking Activity
Original Projected Publication Date Last Projected Publication Date Current Projected Publication Date Latest Action
Aging aircraft widespread fatigue damage FINAL RULE 9/28/07 11/04/10 11/04/10 Published 11/15/2010
Post-employment restrictions for FAA inspectors FINAL RULE 6/10/10 6/10/10 6/10/10 No action
Fatigue tolerance evaluation of metallic structures NPRM 1/21/10 3/12/10 3/12/10 No timeline for final rule set yet
Damage tolerance and fatigue evaluation of composite rotorocraft structures NPRM 3/24/10 1/06/10 1/06/10 Comment period ended April 6
Air carrier maintenance training NPRM 6/01/11 6/01/11 6/01/11 Recently scheduled
Repair stations NPRM 1/29/10 3/29/11 3/29/11 Slated for DOT review
Safety management systems ANPRM 4/08/09 7/22/09 7/22/09 No timeline for NPRM set yet, but SMS NPRM for 121 carriers issued 11/5/2010
FAA released the much-anticipated widespread fatigue damage final rule Nov. 15. The repair station proposal is supposed to update repair station regulations to reflect current business and maintenance practices, as well as advances in aircraft technology.