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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

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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Components of Airport Certification (14 CFR Part 139)

by Tori Williams 2. April 2018 14:18
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If there is one thing I have learned during my time in aviation, it is that sometimes you learn the most when you research aspects of the industry that you generally feel aren’t “relevant” to you. Pilots can learn so much from Air Traffic Controllers, Airport Operations can learn so much from MRO facilities, and the list continues on. Taking the time to look at daily happenings at airports, whether from a flight, operations, maintenance, administrative, or another perspective can help you gain valuable insight to further your career and enrich your experiences.

Just in the way that airport operations personnel could benefit from learning how to fly, pilots could also benefit with learning some basics of how airports are run and which regulations they must adhere to. It should be no surprise that airports have their own special section of the Federal Aviation Regulations that they must follow, and that is 14 CFR Part 139. In this article I would like to give an overview of the main parts of Part 139 so that pilots can better understand why things work the way they do at airports.

Although Part 139 is the baseline for airport certification, not every airport in the U.S. has to follow it. The regulations are specifically for airports that serve scheduled and unscheduled air carrier aircraft with more than 30 seats, serve scheduled air carrier operations in aircraft with more than 9 seats but less than 31 seats, and that the FAA Administrator requires to have a certificate.

The Airport Certification Manual (ACM)

Perhaps the most vital piece of Part 139 compliance is the Airport Certification Manual. This is a document that outlines exactly how an airport will conduct their operations to comply with Part 139. The airport operator writes the ACM, and then every single page is reviewed and signed by the FAA inspector assigned to that airport. If approved, the airport is then issued an Airport Operating Certificate (AOC) which allows flight operations to proceed legally.

Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting

Often referred to as simply “ARFF,” aircraft rescue and firefighting is a major component of airport operations because they have constantly to be ready for any aircraft emergencies. The airport’s “ARFF Index” (designated by letters A-E) is dependent on the longest air carrier aircraft that serves the airport with five or more average daily departures. The ARFF personnel and equipment must be able to properly handle the aircraft type, and they must do a drill where they successfully reach the midpoint of the furthest runway from their station within 3 minutes of being alerted to an accident.

Airport Inspections and Maintenance

There are four types of inspections that airports are required to do under Part 139. These are regularly scheduled, continuous, periodic, and special inspections. Airport operations personnel must physically drive or walk around the airfield, carefully inspecting several key features. These include signage, markings, pavement condition, lighting, FOD (foreign object debris), wildlife, and many others. Regularly scheduled inspections can happen several times a day, and the airport operator outlines in the ACM just how many they are required to do.

Wildlife Hazard Management

Unfortunately, airports can quickly become a very dangerous place for pilots when birds or wildlife are in the area. Just look at Sully! Part 139 airports are required to have a wildlife management plan in place, to help mitigate and eliminate the natural hazards that animals can create. These programs are designed to focus not only on scaring away wildlife already on the airfield, but to move their habitat outside of the security fence so they are less likely to be there to begin with.

Airport Emergency Plan (AEP)

As mentioned before, airports must always be prepared for the worst-case scenario. Thus, a Part 139 airport must submit an airport emergency plan to their FAA inspector in addition to the ACM. This document is a handbook on what exactly should happen in case of an emergency. All possible scenarios should be covered, including terrorism, fuel farm fires, natural disasters, and of course aircraft accidents. FAA Advisory Circular 150/5200-31C, Airport Emergency Plan, provides guidance in meeting the requirements for the plan.

Snow and Ice Control Plan (SICP)

Depending on the airport, snow and ice may be a major problem that has to be dealt with every year. Keeping the airport safe and open is the biggest concern during a snow event, so airports are required to submit a plan for how they will tackle the runway contaminate. This plan must include staffing expectations, equipment usage, priority areas that will be plowed first, and much more. During this time they must also monitor the conditions and let pilots know how what to expect when landing.

Records Keeping

Part 139 is very clear about which records must be kept on site and for how long. Most records, including inspection reports, NOTAMs, incident and accident reports, and fueling inspections are required to be kept for 12 calendar months. Records for the training of personnel who operate in the movement area (the portion of the airfield controlled by ATC) are required to be kept for 24 calendar months.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of Part 139 Airport operations, but I hope that this broad overview helps you to understand the daily happenings at an airport at least a little better. There is more than meets the eye, and airports have to constantly work to stay on top of every aspect of their operation. If you’re curious about what else Part 139 covers, bring out your FAR AIM and take a look! You will definitely learn something you did not know before.

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Aviation Safety | Airports | Tori Williams

FAA Suspected Unapproved Parts Program

by Tori Williams 1. March 2018 08:00
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What are “Unapproved Parts?”

Aviation is such a complex industry, with so many (literal) moving parts. While learning about MRO (Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul) operations, we touched briefly on the FAA Suspected Unapproved Parts Program, and I was intrigued. If you think about it, there are billions of aircraft parts in circulation in the U.S. Aviation Industry at any given moment. The majority of these parts are vital to aircraft operations, and can put passengers in danger if they fail. How do aircraft operators ensure that their parts are actually the high quality that they are relying on when they purchase them?

In 1993 the FAA created the Suspected Unapproved Parts Program in order to decrease the amount of aircraft parts in circulation with unknown or questionable history. The purchasing and installation of these unapproved parts can cause a hazard to flight operations, as their quality is undetermined and they may be unacceptable. The ultimate requirement of an aircraft operator is to maintain airworthiness as specified in the particular part of the Federal Aviation Regulations that governs that type of operation, which also includes all individual parts being in compliance.

Advisory Circular 21-29C defines a S.U.P. as, “A part, component, or material that is suspected of not meeting the requirements of an approved part. A part that, for any reason, a person believes is not approved. Reasons may include findings such as different finish, size, color, improper (or lack of) identification, incomplete or altered paperwork, or any other questionable indication.” So really, a S.U.P. could be anything.

The Advisory Circular makes a clear distinction between aircraft parts that are sold with the understanding that it is for decorative purposes only, and parts that are disguised as airworthy. It is the responsibility of the buyer to request and receive the documentation necessary to show the purpose of the part. Selling a part that is clearly not airworthy is not a crime, as long as the seller does not do it under the premise that it is airworthy.

How are they caught?

There is a process that the FAA has created to report a suspected unapproved part. First, you could call The Aviation Safety Hotline to report unsafe practices that affect aviation safety, including the manufacture, distribution, or use of an S.U.P. Their number is 1-800-255-1111 or 1-866-835-5322. If requested, the caller may remain anonymous.

There is also a standardized form, FAA Form 8120-11, that outlines the information needed about the S.U.P. This includes the date the part was discovered, the part serial number, information about the company that supplied the part, a description of the issue, and several other important facts that the FAA will need to investigate. This form can then be sent to the Aviation Safety Hotline via e-mail or to their physical address in Washington, DC. Although this is a relatively low-tech solution to the problem, it is a solid system for reporting S.U.P. and has done a lot of good.

The FAA then investigates the S.U.P., and if it is found to be unacceptable they will send out an Unapproved Parts Notification (UPN). These are available to the public, and can be found on the FAA website. The most recently posted UPN was put on the site on February 15th, 2018, and outlines various parts distributed by Genesis Aviation Inc. This report recommends that aircraft owners who have installed the parts to inspect and remove them from their aircraft to keep it airworthy.

Why even bother?

The goal of the S.U.P. program is to improve safety and promote transparency in aviation. By having a system in place to detect and report unapproved parts, aircraft maintenance personnel and aircraft owners have an easier way to ensure they are using the best parts available. Removing all unapproved parts from the U.S. Aviation Industry is a huge undertaking, but with the task force making it their personal mission it is much more likely to come to fruition.

This leaves one to wonder what happens to the company or individual that gets caught selling unapproved parts. According to a press release fact sheet sent out by the FAA on the matter, “if the FAA determines that a manufacturer, air carrier or other user violated Federal Aviation Regulations regarding approved parts, they could be subject to anything from a warning letter to a stiff fine. In the case of criminal activity, the appropriate law enforcement authority and judicial system can pursue the case.”

Unapproved parts are a very serious matter that affect the safety of air travel. The FAA has created a great way for any possible unapproved parts to get caught and removed from the U.S. Aviation system.

 

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Aviation Technology | Maintenance

The Robird: Coming Soon to a Sky Near You

by Tori Williams 1. February 2018 08:00
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During a research project for my Airport Manager Certification class (which is really just studying for the AAAE CM exam), I happened upon a video of one of the most interesting Wildlife Management technologies I've ever seen. The video featured the "Robird," which is an Unmanned Aerial System designed to look and fly exactly as a bird of prey does. Created by the company Clear Flight Solutions in the Netherlands, the bird uses UAS technology to be remotely controlled from the ground by a certified pilot. The bird can be used in several scenarios where birds may be a hazard to the surrounding environment, but especially at airports where birds pose a threat to safe flight operations. The body of the UAS is painted with faux feathers, eyes and a beak to increase the lifelike appearance. This device comes in two models, the Eagle and the Falcon, replicating their respective birds of prey.

To begin their marvelous flight, one person uses their hands to hold the drone up into the air while the pilot uses their controls to makes the bird come to life and start flapping its wings. A slight mechanical buzz is heard, but nothing that would give the bird away to his avian enemies. The assistant then launches the drone forward, sending it into the skies and on towards its mission. The small but mighty UAS is able to reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour, a big selling point for those looking to take their wildlife management tactics to the next level.

A flying robot has many unique challenges. It has to be lightweight enough to soar through the air, but the body must contain all of the necessary mechanical parts, resulting in extra weight. The engineers were able to give the birds perfect weights (the Falcon is 1.6 pounds and the Eagle is 4.5 pounds) by creating the bodies out of nylon composite with glass fiber and utilizing a lithium polymer battery. The wings are 3D printed, and the machine is assembled by hand.

The most important technology of the Robird is how Clear Flight Solutions has managed to make the robot look incredibly lifelike, completely indistinguishable from a real bird of prey from even a short distance away. This is achieved not only by the immaculate paint job on the robot, but the way that it flaps its wings and has a flight behavior eerily similar to the real birds. This is achieved by having each foam wing flex into different degrees across its length.

The pilot is always able to control exactly where the bird flies, so it is safe in even the busiest airfields. Because it utilizes drone technology, it will be easy to regulate and classify the device for Airport Certification Manuals. The creators of the device are quoted as saying, “it can be tempting to put too much technology into the bird,” and seem to want their device to be useful because it is simple, rather than too technological to operate daily.

The goal when using this robot is to scare away unwanted wildlife from active airfields, providing efficient wildlife management and drastically reducing the occurrences of bird strikes. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, birds make up 97% of reported wildlife strikes. Seeing as they are the most common wildlife hazard, airport managers must often target them specifically.

Birds have shown a tendency to become accustomed to other traditional means of wildlife management, such as loud noises or statues of owls. Clear Flight Solutions claims that as use of their Robird continues on the airfield, the birds will learn to avoid the supposed “hunting ground” of the creature, and the problematic populations will dwindle. In a series of test flights they were able to reduce the bird population in the affected area by 75 percent over time.

This is a new and exciting technology, and I am interested to see how this bird drone develops further into the future. Check out the video below to see the realistic flight patterns of the Robird. The future is now!

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Flying | Tori Williams



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