The Role of Data in Aviation Safety (Part 1)

March 1, 2021

No weight is heavier for the aviation community than the pressure to improve safety. It's not 'one-and-done' either. Adhering to safety procedures and requirements is a constant process for an industry where no two days are the same. 

Over the past 20 years, no technology is as highly regarded and potentially effective for aviation safety as flight data monitoring (FDM), otherwise known as Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA) in North America. At its core, FDM routinely captures and analyses flight recorder data to improve flight operations. 

With the help of software, FDM analyses measurable and objective data from the aircraft's recording system, increasing safety programmes' effectiveness. Thus, FDM is growing in importance as a fundamental aspect to a more organised approach to managing aviation safety.

With advancements in technology, we can collect more data parameters than ever during flight. Today, FDM can provide unparalleled insights. It can identify risks and help aviation operators take corrective action. 

Today, airliners around the world utilise FDM. But for a technology that significantly improved safety for one sector, barriers to entry remain, which prevents general aviation from widely adopting it. 

Aviation Safety with Flight Data

Investigating with FDM

FDM began as a way for airliners to learn from incidents back in 1967 with cockpit recorders and the notorious 'black box.' To this day, no other invention in aviation has significantly improved aviation safety to this extent. 

However, because it was an accident investigation tool more than anything else, FDM technology was complicated, technical, and expensive and thus primarily applied to airliners. 

Over the years, black boxes were so effective that they were used less and less for their original purpose. Because airliners have experienced safer skies than ever, black boxes provided less insight. Immense amounts of data were left unused. 

With fewer accidents, the question became: How can aviation learn from data without waiting for incidents to happen?

Aviaiton Safety with Flight Data 2

Insights without Accidents

Over the last 30 years, FDM gradually improved in what it can do. More than an accident investigation tool, FDM can now measure precursors to significant events (e.g., accidents). 

It's an approach to safety that is more proactive than reactive because it allows aviation operators to learn from data without waiting for adverse events to happen. It even has the potential as an anticipatory tool for risk levels associated with human error

The rapid expansion of FDM took off in airliners less than 20 years ago. Quickly, its benefits became apparent due to its ability to identify unsafe events objectively. In 2005, FDM data helped identify a problem of unstable approaches on a runway in Charlotte, North Carolina.

With accessible and shareable information, the operators could take collaborative action. The same article also found that crews felt more comfortable reporting safety incidents after successfully implementing FDM...

Continue reading in part 2 here....


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