Aviation Safety Letter 1/2005

Flight Data Monitoring - A Proactive Approach to Safety

by Howard Posluns, Transportation Development Centre, Transport Canada

Using recorded flight data to prevent accidents

While flight data recorders - such as the so-called black boxes - are regularly called on to help determine the cause of airplane accidents, the information they routinely collect can also help prevent accidents.

Flight data recording devices electronically monitor and record data from a wide variety of systems aboard an aircraft from engine start-up to engine shutdown following a flight. Analyzing the data from several flights by the same aircraft, or by the same type of aircraft, can reveal potential technical or safety problems long before they become critical. The data can also be used to improve maintenance schedules, flight crew performance and air traffic control procedures. Confidentiality is an important issue as well, so Transport Canada is changing the Aeronautics Act to ensure that the recorded flight data is properly protected.

Cost-effective and safe

Flight data monitoring programs (FDMP) are widely recognized in the aviation industry as one of the most cost-effective tools for improving safety. Begun in Europe several years ago, they are now widely used in many parts of the world. In the U.S., where the program is called Flight Operational Quality Assurance (FOQA), most carriers have had programs for several years.

Transport Canada is working with Canadian airlines interested in starting voluntary monitoring programs, and most of the larger companies either have a program in place, or are in the process of implementing one. While some airlines conduct the entire monitoring program in-house, others use a third-party company to analyze the flight data. Negotiations are currently underway with other Canadian carriers to start FDMPs. The department also organizes seminars, meetings, and other opportunities to exchange information and to stay on top of developments within the industry and around the world. A recent meeting in Ottawa gave airlines considering an FDMP a chance to talk with those who already have one. They also heard representatives from the U.S., U.K. and Japanese civil aviation authorities, as well as Japan Airlines.

Learning from experience

Transport Canada's Transportation Development Centre (TDC) has been involved in the development of a variety of technologies used in FDMPs. For example, the international flight recorder configuration standard (FRCS) was developed to standardize the information that a flight data recorder ground station needs to recover, decode and interpret the hundreds or even thousands of parameters that a flight recorder captures electronically. This standard been adopted by ARINC for industry-wide use.

TDC has also been active area of data and information sharing. Airlines from around world are now starting to share data and safety information international effort to improve safety and efficiency by learning through the experiences of others. As this type of cooperative activity expands, it is expected that already enviable safety record will be improved even more.

Transport Canada is currently encouraging Canadian air operators to implement a safety management system (SMS), this activity will be regulated the next few years. The SMS out systematic and comprehensive processes for managing safety risks, and integrates operations and technical systems financial and human resource management to achieve safe efficient operations. Where applicable, FDMPs will be considered an essential component of an airline's SMS.

For more information on project, contact Howard Posluns at TDC:

Tel.:  514 283-0034
Fax:  514 283-7158
E-mail:  poslunh@tc.gc.ca

For more on TDC's R&D program, visit our Web site: www.tc.gc.ca/tdc/
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