The SMS Regulation is Coming. Is Your Airport Ready?

Leading SMS Tech Expert Shares Experience and Industry Best Practices

NEW ORLEANS – The FAA issued a projected publication date for the Airport Safety Management System (SMS) Final Rule of April 12, 2022.   This move by the FAA puts into action what many airports have been planning for over a decade.  

The FAA defines SMS as “the formal, top-down, organization-wide approach to managing safety risk and assuring the effectiveness of safety risk controls. It includes systematic procedures, practices, and policies for the management of safety risk.”

Who’s affected

As the rule is currently written, some 136 large-, medium-, and small-hub airports and others that qualify would have to submit SMS Implementation Plans within 12 months and an amended Airport Certification Manual or an SMS Manual within 24 months of the final rule’s effective date. That may seem like ample time, but every moment matters when considering the monumental task of compliance.

There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ SMS program. Airport operators will each create their own implementation plans and manuals based on how their airport will incorporate the four functional components: Safety Policy, Safety Risk Management, Safety Assurance, and Safety Promotion.

No need to fly blind

To help guide airport operators on how to get ahead and tailor an SMS to their unique circumstances, Civix Product Director Matt Batina is sharing technology implementation best practices established over the past several years in close partnership with scores of airports, SMS experts, and leading industry stakeholders.

Relied on by over 100 airports throughout the U.S., Civix provides technology solutions for virtually every facet of airport operations – from maximizing efficiency and profitability to security and safety. Batina and the team of former airport executives at Civix tapped into this deep network to develop the market’s first, and best, SMS technology solution for airports.

The process started in 2015 with what Batina describes as a few storyboards on what an SMS solution could be. It also involved input from over 50 airports – including large hubs like ATL – and a number of leading SMS subject matter experts.

An SMS solution for airports, built by airports

“Building a SMS solution was a multi-year, iterative process rooted in a deep understanding of the needs of airports,” said Batina. “Our process relied heavily on airport engagement, with an ongoing cycle of feedback and improvement that has led to this highly functional SMS solution.”

Ultimately, Civix would design 15 versions before it arrived at a Beta prototype. Following several more years of research and airport input, Civix launched its first SMS pilot customer in 2020. Now over a year later and after several more successful launches, Batina is sharing best practices to help the industry prepare for the approaching final rule. He’s regularly tapped to advise airports on SMS and to provide presentations at industry conferences, such as ACI’s Airport Safety Management Systems Summer Series.

Smart ways to get moving right away

Listed below are some of the high points of the SMS technology implementation best practices:

Have an SMS manual

Batina says airports should have a solid SMS manual. Not only will it be required by the FAA with the final rule, a manual will also form the blueprint for an airports SMS program.

“We’re going to be implementing our software through that manual, and it will provide important guideposts,” he said. “An airport’s SMS program will be more successful if there’s already a thoughtful manual in place already. It’s never too soon.”

Identify and secure commitment of stakeholders, and maintain their involvement

Much like Civix engages stakeholders in the development of its SMS technology solution, Batina says airports should secure the commitment of stakeholders.

“It’s as much a bottom-up approach as it is a top-down one,” he said. “You will need everyone pulling the rope in the same direction, from upper management to the frontline staff. Those staff members are the eyes and ears of your airport, and they’re ultimately the ones who will be using the technology.”

He says understanding stakeholders goals are key because the SMS program should be aligned with those goals.

“It’s critical to keep stakeholders engaged as the project progresses,” Batina continued.

Integrated Data Approach

Having an integrated Part 139, SMS, and Maintenance Work Orders is key. It provides a number of benefits, such as Part 139 tracking, work order status transparency, and of course, a one-stop shop for data.

Civix’s Airport Safety & Operations Compliance System (ASOCS) is integrated in this way, enabling seamless coordination between departments.

Appoint a project sponsor from within your organization

Batina says a sponsor is important because they are the ones who will help keep the project moving forward.

“It should be someone who gets things done,” he said. “This person will champion the project, allowing the SMS manager to focus on the components of the SMS program and their needs for the SMS software.”

Identify early wins you can achieve

Hazard-reporting and the collection of safety reports are examples of early wins that Batina says can and should be achieved as soon as possible in the process of developing an SMS.

“If basic reporting is a priority, do that early on,” he said.

Prioritize needs and requirements

When it comes to evaluating technological needs for an SMS program, airports should be detailed in the RFPs they issue.

“The better you explain your needs, the better chance a vendor can meet them,” he said. “RFP’s often contain wish list items, but the key is to prioritize what’s most important.”

He says that, through stakeholder engagement, airports should identify their desired outcomes and then map their RFPs to those outcomes.

Communicate risks up and determine gaps in functionality up front

When implementing a technology solution, there needs to be a crystal-clear understanding of expectations and risks. If any differences in interpretation or gaps are discovered between airports and vendors, they must quickly be addressed.

Identify what reports you will need as early as possible

Data is at the center of a functional SMS program, and, thus, identifying the reports necessary to fulfill data reporting needs is essential.

Establish a regular cadence for project meetings

Batina says he and the team at Civix meet with SMS clients 2-3 times per week to keep projects moving.

“Make the time to work with your vendor on a weekly basis to continue moving things forward, whether those be small things or the more significant tasks,” he said.

Beyond best practices, Batina and the airport experts at Civix are advising clients on business requirements like data reporting needs, and technology requirements, such as cloud or on-premises hosting, system requirements, and managing Personal Identifiable Information (PII), and much more.

Up in the cloud

When considering SMS technologies, airports should consider their hosting options. Cloud-based solutions allow for more flexibility, quicker updates, higher security and fast disaster recovery.

Civix hosts its solutions on the most secure cloud environments available, including Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS). These cloud regions are designed to host sensitive data, regulated workloads, and address the most stringent U.S. government security and compliance requirements.

Don’t go it alone

New FAA mandates can bring uncertainty and confusion plus an exasperating feeling of not knowing where to start. That’s why Civix has been digging in and laying the groundwork for close to six years now, and we’re ready to help you ensure your airport is fully prepared for the coming SMS changes and challenges.

With the FAA SMS rulemaking on short final, now is more important than ever that you make plans for its arrival and how you will manage your airport’s safety data collection, analysis, and SMS program efficiently. Contact us today to learn more about our extensive experience working with airports like yours and to discuss how we can support your airport’s SMS program and its integrated components including Part 139 Compliance and Maintenance Work Orders. If interested, you can also request to see how the other complementary products in our Operations suite meet your needs for Gate Management and Real-Time Incident Management and Response.