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Safety Management Systems (SMS) in Aviation

by Tori Williams 1. June 2018 21:37
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There is nothing more important in the aviation industry than safety. Every law, rule, or procedure has its roots in the general objective of increasing safety. Due to the fact that it is always being improved upon and innovated within, the United States’ national airspace system is one of the safest in the world. Today I would like to take a look at one of the newest pieces of regulation regarding safety in aviation, Safety Management Systems (SMS).

Historically, the process for improving safety was purely reactionary. Authorities would wait for an accident, investigate the accident to identify the cause, and then make changes to avoid the same accident in the future. This is ineffective, as it can solve one or two problems at a time but not address the less obvious contributing factors to the accident. Of course, accidents will continue to be investigated and learned from, but there is a new system that takes a more preventative approach.

Safety Management Systems (SMS) is a core concept in the aviation industry and recognized by both FAA and ICAO. This structured and business-like approach to managing and improving safety in all facets of the aviation industry has been explained by the FAA in a series of Advisory Circulars.

Is a SMS mandatory for all aviation operations? Not quite. For example, SMS for all part 139 certificated airports was proposed in the Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) in October 2010, however, in 2016 the FAA issued a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (SNPRM) which reduced the number of airports that needed an SMS to 265 airports that are certified under Part 139; airports that must have an SMS program include the following:

- classified as a small, medium, or large hub airport in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems;

- identified by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection as a port of entry, designated international airport, landing rights airport, or user fee airport; or

- identified as having more than 100,000 total annual operations.

This requirement maximizes safety benefits in the least burdensome manner and is consistent with international standards. Airports that are not required to have an SMS may still use FAA resources and implement selected practices to ensure safety at their airport. A full SMS plan may take months to create, and in some cases require assistance from an outside consulting firm.

The Four Components of SMS

Safety Management Systems has been divided into four distinct components; Safety Policy, Safety Risk Management, Safety Assurance, and Safety Promotion. Each has their own influence on SMS, and they come together to form a complete SMS program. Here is a brief description of each component.

Safety Policy: This is management’s commitment to safety, formally expressed in a statement of the organization's safety policy. A safety policy is written and agreed upon by top management and outlines the exact processes and plans the organization has to achieve desired safety outcomes. This should be the beginning of a positive safety culture that encourages employees to take ownership over their organization’s safety and to ensure they can report safety issues without fear of being reprimanded.

Safety Risk Management (SRM): This component looks at the present and future hazards and risks that the organization faces, then determines if there is an adequate risk control in place to mitigate them. This step often includes a Risk Matrix, or a grid analyzing the likeliness and severity of all possible risk scenarios. This component of SMS is vital for continually analyzing the effectiveness of current risk mitigation methods.

Safety Assurance: Safety Assurance is characterized by self-auditing, external auditing, and safety oversight. This component ensures that the steps taken in safety policy and safety risk management are helping the organization reach their desired safety outcomes. Proper resource allocation and data collecting are vital for this component, as it relies partially on historical information.

Safety Promotion: The human element is at the core of SMS. Having properly trained employees who are passionate about safety will help any organization reach their safety objectives. This component of SMS is all about having a Safety Manager who provides information and training for safety issues relevant to the specific jobs at the airport.

I hope that this brief overview of Safety Management Systems has taught you something new about an effective safety program. The great thing about SMS is that it can be applied to any industry, scenario, and operation. The FAA mandating SMS for certain sectors of aviation is a great move that I believe will eliminate quite a few accidents in the future. What do you think of SMS? Let me know in the comments!

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Aviation Safety

Beyond "Performance As A Pilot": What Is The Scope Of A PRIA Request?

by Greg Reigel 29. May 2018 09:59
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I am frequently asked by pilots whether an employer's disclosure of certain documents is properly within the scope of a request for documents under the Pilot Records Improvement Act ("PRIA"). Answering the question usually requires analyzing whether the document being disclosed relates to the individual's "performance as a pilot." However, based upon a recent Legal Interpretation issued by the FAA's Office of the Chief Counsel, it appears that the scope of a PRIA request casts a bigger net.

The Interpretation initially noted that "the separate provisions of the PRIA work in tandem to provide a complete record of potential pilot employment issues and to capture instances relating to an individual's performance as a pilot that do not fall into one of the provided statutory categories." It then went on to discuss how these provisions overlap.

With respect to whether a document relates to an individual's performance as a pilot, the Interpretation stated "to the extent that a pilot's behavior directly disrupts safe aircraft operations, those records should be included in accordance with the 'catch-all' provision" of § 44703(h)(l)(B)(ii). Next it noted that § 44703(h)(l)(B)(i) requires disclosure of documents an air carrier must maintain under 14 C.F.R. § 121.683 (records of each action taken concerning the release from employment or physical or professional disqualification of any flight crewmember).

The Interpretation then confirmed that the records maintained under § 121.683 are not limited to those records relating to an individual's performance as a pilot. Rather, it stated "[p]ilot infractions not related to pilot performance that would rise to a level grave enough to cause an air carrier to release a pilot from employment would be captured by this recordkeeping requirement, and a hiring air carrier would be required to request and receive those records."

Based upon this Interpretation, it appears the scope of documents an air carrier must produce in response to a PRIA request potentially includes more than just documents directly relating to the individual's performance as a pilot. As a result, if you are a pilot applying for a position with an air carrier and you are concerned about what your previous or current employer may or may not disclose, I recommend that you request a copy of your employment file BEFORE you apply to the air carrier. That way you will know what is in your file and potentially subject to disclosure.

But keep in mind that if you disagree with what is in your file or what the employer may be disclosing, any recourse you may have against your employer is likely governed by applicable employment laws. As the Interpretation states, "PRIA is not a means for the FAA to arbitrate employment disputes."

If you have additional questions regarding PRIA, you should review FAA Advisory Circular 120-68G. And, as always, if you have additional questions, I'm happy to help.

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Greg Reigel

If You Want To Appeal An FAA Order/Decision, Make Sure It Is Final.

by Greg Reigel 7. May 2018 17:21
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FAA Decisions

It isn't uncommon for someone to be unhappy with an FAA decision. Fortunately, our laws provide a mechanism for appealing or objecting to certain final orders or decisions issued by the FAA. Specifically, 49 U.S.C. § 46110(a) provides that a person with a substantial interest in the FAA's order/decision "may apply for review of the order by filing a petition for review in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit or in the court of appeals of the United States for the circuit in which the person resides or has its principal place of business." The petition must be filed not later than sixty (60) days after the order is issued unless reasonable grounds exist for filing later than the 60th day.


However, in order for an FAA order to be subject to review by a court, the order must be "final." What does it mean to be "final"? Well, the courts have held that two requirements must be met: (1) the FAA's action must evidence the completion of the agency's decisionmaking process, rather than simply tentative or subject to further consideration; and (2) the FAA's action must determine certain rights or obligations, or result in legal consequences. Courts also consider whether the decision or order is at a stage where judicial review would interfere with or disrupt the FAA's administrative/decisionmaking process.

So, for example, if the FAA issues a letter merely restating a previously adopted interpretation of a regulation, that would not be considered a a "final" decision. However, if the FAA issued a new interpretation or clarified an existing interpretation, in either of those instances it is quite possible that the FAA's action would be considered a "final" decision subject to appeal.

Additionally, if the FAA issues a letter or notice in which it indicates that a party's practices may potentially violate the law, that letter or notice may not necessarily be the completion of the agency's decisionmaking process such that it determines a party's legal rights or obligation
s. For example, neither a letter of investigation nor a notice of proposed certificate action is considered final agency action because the FAA hasn't yet determined whether it will actually pursue enforcement action and issue a final order subject to appeal.


As a result, if you are concerned about something the FAA says or does, before you run to the courthouse to file a petition asking a Judge to tell the FAA it is wrong, make sure the FAA's action is actually a "final" action subject to judicial review. Otherwise, you could end up wasting time and money only to have the Judge tell you that the Court doesn't have the authority to even consider your arguments.

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Fixed Based Operators (FBO) | Airports | Greg Reigel

Cirrus Awarded Colier Trophy for Vision Jet

by Tori Williams 1. May 2018 13:04
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It is no secret that Cirrus is having an incredibly successful year. As they continue to expand into their new Knoxville, TN location, sign contracts with multiple flight schools to furnish their training fleet, and improve upon innovative aircraft designs such as the G5, Cirrus shows no signs of slowing down. Big news was released earlier this month regarding their development of the world’s first single-engine Personal Jet, the Cirrus Vision Jet.

The National Aeronautic Association (NAA) announced that the Cirrus Aircraft Vision Jet has been awarded the 2017 Robert J. Collier Trophy. The Vision Jet marks several firsts in civil aviation, and perhaps the beginning of a new age of civil aviation entirely. It has the distinction of being the first single-engine jet to be certified with the FAA, and the first jet of any type designed to include the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS.) This marriage of safety and innovation made it an obvious choice for the Collier Trophy, which is awarded annually "for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles, the value of which has been thoroughly demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year."

The very first prototype of the Vision Jet was produced in July of 2008. After continually improving, polishing, and test flying, the jet was ready for FAA certification almost 10 years later in 2016. Certification was completed in October of 2016, and the first customer Vision Jet was delivered in December of the same year. Cirrus continued to produce the aircraft at a rate of around one per week and announced plans to increase production to deliver between 75 and 125 in 2018.

Cirrus predicts there will be a sizable market for this type of aircraft, as many individuals would enjoy having a private jet but do not have the resources for an entire flight department and multi-pilot crew. With an avionics panel designed very similarly to the SR20 and SR22, pilots who are familiar with other Cirrus aircraft should have little trouble transitioning into this aircraft. Over 600 orders have already been placed for the jet, further confirming its popularity amongst the civil aviation crowd.

Truly, the luxurious interior of the jet is a sight to behold. Spacious enough to seat up to 5 adults plus 2 children, the passenger cabin also features USB charging ports for each seat and an in-flight entertainment system. The oversized windows in the cabin are a huge bonus too, allowing passengers the perfect view every time. Costing only $1.96 Million, Forbes named the Vision Jet “The most affordable private jet in the world.”

The Collier Trophy will be formally presented at the Annual Robert J. Collier Trophy Dinner on June 14, 2018 at a location to be announced. It is on permanent display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. We wish Cirrus all the best in their continued successes, and hope to see more Vision Jets in the sky very soon!

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Financial Analysis - Part 1

by David Wyndham 30. April 2018 12:11
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It seems that in aviation there are some who think finances are scary (read as job threatening) and those who think finances are just simply boring. Both groups try their best to avoid the subject. There is a middle way, those whose knowledge of finances gives them a powerful and convincing tool for making the right aircraft decision!

To do a proper financial analysis, you will need the initial investment required, the variable and fixed costs of operation, and the estimated residual value of the aircraft at the end of the term. Taxes and revenue potential can also play an important part in the analysis. The objective of a financial analysis is to determine which of the qualified aircraft provides the optimum combination of these elements.

Before doing a financial analysis, you will need to establish financial criteria and options. This process starts in the same manner as when you are selecting an aircraft. First you choose the criteria by which you will select an aircraft. With aircraft, we think in terms of things such as range, payload and cabin size. In aircraft financial analyses, we think of things like:

Amount of utilization. For point to point travel, do this in miles (or kilometers). Trips from Point A to Point B have a set distance. Add up those trips' distances. Then divide by the aircrafts' typical trip speeds to arrive at the utilization in hours. 160,000 nautical miles is 400 hours at 400 knots or 500 hours at 320 knots. This will have an impact on the fleet size as well. A large amount of utilization (in miles) can spell three slower aircraft or two faster ones.

Type of ownership. Full ownership, co-ownership, fractional ownership. Maybe not even owning at all. Utilization under 200 hours per year can suggest a form of charter or perhaps fractional ownership. Between 200 to 300 hours, fractional ownership and full ownership should be considered. Over 300 hours tends to favor full ownership. There may be extenuating circumstances to consider as well. 

New versus used. Do the lower maintenance costs, added tax depreciation benefits, and the ability to specify the exact configuration of the new aircraft outweigh the used aircraft's lower acquisition cost? There may be other considerations favoring the new aircraft such as updated avionics.

Lease or Purchase? A lease typically has a very low initial payment, and depending on the type of lease, may not be considered "long term debt" on the corporation's balance sheet. Purchase includes both finance and full payment up front. With a purchase, you do have ownership and after the payment(s), have an asset with a definite value.

Trade-in Value. If you currently own an aircraft, you need to get an idea of its current worth in the market. Price guides such as the Aircraft Bluebook Price Digest, Vref , and The Official Helicopter Bluebook offer a good starting point for determining the value of an aircraft. Nothing beats an appraisal by a qualified appraiser. The National Aircraft Appraisers Association is one place to start. An appraiser will give you the real-world value in today's market that will aid you in negotiations with buyers.

Acquisition Price. For used aircraft, see the references above. You can also look at aircraft-for-sale web sites to see what the "asking" prices are. Keep in mind that there can be a considerable margin between asking and final selling price. An appraiser can also give you some information on used aircraft prices as well. For new, start with the manufacturer's list price. In today's market, most sellers are willing to make a deal, so don't count out a new model that is "just a little bit" outside of the target acquisition price.

Length of ownership. When you analyze each aircraft, use an equal length of ownership. Looking at cash flows and costs over different lengths of time can give you a distorted picture. This is very important when considering the time value of money. When income or expenses occur can be as important as how much.

The methodology to do all the calculations is called Life Cycle Costing. The Life Cycle Costing includes acquisition, operating costs, depreciation, and the cost of capital. Amortization, interest, depreciation, and taxes also play a part in what it costs to own and operate an aircraft and can be included in the Life Cycle Costing as appropriate.

Once you have calculated the life cycle costs of the various options, you can compare the total costs. However, this may not be enough. While the magnitude of expenses and revenues is critical, their timing is important, too. In general, it is preferred to pay the bills as far into the future as we can without penalty. 

The next step is to use the concept of the time value of money. We all can agree that being paid today and paying our bills next week is the preferred way to manage our finances. This is the simple version of the time value of money. Next month, we will explain it in detail and complete the financial analysis.

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David Wyndham | Flight Department



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