Aviation Safety:

Additional FAA Efforts Could Enhance Safety Risk Management

GAO-12-898: Published: Sep 12, 2012. Publicly Released: Sep 12, 2012.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Gerald L. Dillingham
(202) 512-4803
dillinghamg@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and its business lines and offices are in different stages of their implementation of Safety Management Systems (SMS). FAA finalized its agency-wide implementation plan in April 2012, and the Air Traffic Organization (ATO) has completed its SMS implementation, but other FAA SMS efforts are in the early stages. FAA business lines, such as the Aviation Safety Organization (AVS) and the Office of Airports (ARP), have SMS guidance and plans largely in place and have begun to integrate related practices into their operations, but many implementation tasks remain incomplete, and officials and experts project that full SMS implementation could take many years.

There are a number of key practices that can help agencies plan for and efficiently implement new projects, including large scale transformations such as FAA's SMS implementation, and FAA has many in place. For example, FAA has support from top leadership and a clear project mission. However, FAA has only partially addressed other key practices such as developing a project plan to track SMS implementation, and FAA has not addressed performance-related practices such as establishing SMS performance measures or links between employees' performance standards and SMS.

Several challenges remain that may affect FAA's ability to effectively implement SMS. FAA is taking steps to address some challenges and stakeholder concerns, but challenges related to data sharing and data quality; capacity to conduct SMS-based analyses and oversight; and standardization of policies and procedures could negatively affect FAA's efforts to implement SMS in a timely and efficient manner. Further, FAA officials stated that SMS implementation will require some skills that agency employees do not have, but FAA has not yet assessed the skills of its workforce to identify specific gaps in employee expertise. In addition, while existing federal law protects any data collected for SMS, any data airports collect could be subject to state-specific Freedom of Information Act laws, a gap that could create a disincentive for airports to fully participate in SMS implementation.

Why GAO Did This Study

The nation's aviation system is one of the safest in the world, but with air travel projected to increase over the next 20 years, efforts to ensure the continued safety of aviation are increasingly important. The FAA is seeking to further enhance safety by shifting to a data-driven, risk-based safety oversight approach--referred to as SMS. SMS implementation is required for FAA and several of its business lines and the agency is taking steps to require industry implementation.

As requested, this report addresses (1) the status of FAA's implementation of SMS, (2) the extent to which FAA's SMS efforts have been consistent with key practices for successful planning and implementation of a new program, and (3) challenges FAA faces in implementing SMS. To address these issues, GAO reviewed FAA SMS documents, compared FAA efforts to key practices, and interviewed agency and industry officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that FAA develop systems to: track SMS implementation, evaluate employee performance as it relates to SMS, and assess whether SMS meets its goals and objectives; conduct a workforce analysis for SMS; and consider strategies to address airports' data concerns. The Department of Transportation agreed to consider the recommendations and provided clarifying information about SMS, which GAO incorporated.

For more information, contact Gerald L. Dillingham, Ph.D., at (202) 512-2834 or dillinghamg@gao.gov.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To enhance the effectiveness of efforts to implement SMS and maximize the positive impact of SMS implementation on aviation safety, and to better evaluate the effectiveness of the agency's efforts to implement SMS, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to develop a system to assess whether SMS meets its goals and objectives by identifying and collecting related data on performance measures.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To enhance the effectiveness of efforts to implement SMS and maximize the positive impact of SMS implementation on aviation safety, and to align strategic goals with employee efforts, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to develop a system to evaluate employees' performance as it relates to SMS.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To enhance the effectiveness of efforts to implement SMS and maximize the positive impact of SMS implementation on aviation safety, and to better manage implementation, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to develop a system to track and report on SMS implementation across business lines.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To enhance the effectiveness of efforts to implement SMS and maximize the positive impact of SMS implementation on aviation safety, and to better leverage existing resources and facilitate SMS implementation, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to conduct a workforce analysis to inventory existing employee skills and abilities and develop strategies for addressing any SMS-related gaps identified.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To enhance the effectiveness of efforts to implement SMS and maximize the positive impact of SMS implementation on aviation safety, and to maximize the positive impact of SMS implementation on aviation safety, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to consider strategies to address airports' concerns that may negatively affect data collection and data sharing, including asking Congress to provide additional protections for SMS data collected by public entities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Jun 25, 2014

    Jun 24, 2014

    Jun 18, 2014

    Jun 11, 2014

    May 30, 2014

    May 28, 2014

    Looking for more? Browse all our products here