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US FAA to mandate use of safety tool by charter airlines, manufacturers

FILE PHOTO: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) slows the volume of airplane traffic over Florida

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Monday said it is finalizing new rules requiring charter, commuter, air tour operators, and aircraft manufacturers to implement a key safety tool aimed at reducing accidents.

The FAA is adopting a final rule mandating the use of Safety Management Systems (SMS), which are a set of policies and procedures to proactively identify and address potential operational hazards, after first proposing to do so in January 2023. U.S. airlines have been required to have SMS since 2018 and some aerospace companies already voluntarily have SMS programs like Boeing.

"Requiring more aviation organizations to implement a proactive approach to managing safety will prevent accidents and save lives,” FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said.

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Congress in 2020 directed the FAA to mandate SMS for aircraft manufacturers as part of a wide-ranging certification reform bill following two fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes, but the FAA's final rule goes beyond the requirements from lawmakers.

The issue of safety management has gotten new attention after a mid-air cabin panel blowout on a new Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 plane. The FAA barred Boeing from expanding 737 MAX production and ordered the planemaker to develop a comprehensive plan to address "systemic quality-control issues" within 90 days.

SMS systems require four key components - safety policy, safety risk management, safety assurance, and safety promotion. The FAA in 2023 required major airports to adopt SMS programs after more than 10 years of study.

The National Transportation Safety Board has urged the FAA to require and verify the SMS systems in all revenue passenger-carrying aviation operations.

The NTSB said previously "too many operators either do not have one in place or have an ineffective one.​.. It’s time more got on board. The risk to the flying public is too great not to."

The NTSB has cited SMS systems in a number of incidents including the 2020 helicopter crash that killed NBA star Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others. The board cited the operator's "incomplete implementation of its safety management system" and the benefits of a mandatory SMS in its report.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Hugh Lawson)