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Securing FAA Approval: How to Obtain a 'Yes' Using SMS for Expanded Drone Operations

Updated: May 19

SMS Drone FAA Approval

A systematic approach to safety is crucial in the rapidly advancing field of drone technology, especially when aiming to undertake higher-risk operations. My experience securing waivers from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for these operations, supported by a strong Safety Management System (SMS), highlights the importance of effective change management within the SMS framework. This foundation ensures compliance and fosters a culture of continuous improvement and adaptability in the face of evolving challenges.


Leveraging SMS for Enhanced Safety

The SMS is a structured methodology to manage safety risks, a cornerstone for drone operations aiming to break new ground. Ensuring configuration control with understanding the root cause guarantees predictability, crucial for effective risk assessment and mitigation. Yet, the dynamic nature of drone advancements and shifting regulatory standards calls for a solid change management process and configuration control, integral elements of SMS, to navigate changes safely and methodically.


The Power of Safety Assurance and Safety Risk Management (SRM)

Safety assurance and Safety Risk Management (SRM) are pivotal for waivers and exemptions, enabling detailed, data-driven discussions with regulators. This process encompasses hazard identification, risk assessment, and constructing a persuasive safety argument for the FAA. Historical safety assurance data validate compliance with established safety protocols, underscoring effective risk management.


The SMS framework demands a data-driven justification when introducing new operations, leading to informed dialogues. It involves potential tests, configuration control, and comprehensive documentation of changes, reinforced by logical analysis and root cause examination. Such rigor demonstrates adherence to FAA Order 8040.4 and facilitates the responsible broadening of operational scopes.


Employing a data-focused strategy ensures discussions are grounded in tangible evidence and reflects a profound understanding of operational safety, enhancing the confidence of regulatory bodies.


The FAA's evolving waiver approach, which seeks to marry innovation with stringent safety measures, emphasizes the critical role that a carefully curated SMS plays in securing regulatory consent.


Charting the Future: Safe and Innovative Drone Operations

As we look to the future, the trajectory for drone operations, especially those beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) and over people, is laden with the responsibility to uphold the highest safety standards. Incorporating safety assurance practices and the analytical review of operational changes are fundamental, aligning with FAA Order 8040.4's vision for safety integration into aviation, including drones.


The collective wisdom from industry and regulators promotes a unified approach towards safety and innovation. By leveraging the comprehensive SMS framework, operators can navigate regulatory requirements more effectively, setting the stage for the next era of drone operations.


In summary, advancing towards more sophisticated drone operations necessitates a staunch commitment to safety, as detailed in FAA Order 8040.4. Through diligent SMS practices, operators can meet and exceed current standards, propelling the future of drone technology with safety as a guiding principle. As we venture further into the skies, let's pledge to a future where innovation and safety soar together.

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