(Note: This article was originally published on December 10, 2020).

Close the Flight Data Monitoring Loop

Up until now in this Flight Data Monitoring/FOQA series, we have looked at more of the technical aspects of Flight Data monitoring systems. From the flight recorder hardware used to collect and transfer the data to the computer software and analysis tools that are used to interpret, evaluate and analyze the data, there is quite a bit of technology in the process.

The technology that takes a stream of ones and zeroes and processes them to allow us to ultimately review informative reports and charts is quite impressive; however, it is not the end of the Flight Data Monitoring/FOQA process.

Unfortunately, many operators treat it as so, generating monthly or quarterly reports that are briefly reviewed before being printed out and filed away in a binder for future reference.

Make Informed Decisions

The final step of a Flight Data Monitoring/FOQA program is making actionable decisions based on the information provided by these hi-tech solutions and implementing those decisions.

For smaller operators, a third-party Flight Data Monitoring/FOQA provider such as Scaled Analytics can help significantly with this crucial step as it is critical to understand what the data is telling you in order to ensure that the right decisions and actions are taken.

Those actions, though, can arguably be very low-tech. For example, if your Flight Data Monitoring/FOQA program indicates that you are operating well within your safety limits and SOPs (then, congratulations), the only action may be to get this feedback to the key people in your organization such as your training and management team so they know that what they are doing is working. Then just continue to monitor the data.

If, however (as is more more often the case) deficiencies are noted, the range of actions could vary considerably. Actions could be as simple as sending a memo out to the pilot community, or they could be more involved such as reviewing and updating training programs or Standard Operating Procedures.

Corrective actions do not have to be restricted to being within your own organization, either. The data may uncover challenges that could be resolved by coordinating with airport authorities or aircraft/engine manufacturers. We have seen, on a small handful of occasions, situations where analysis conducted through our Flight Data Monitoring/FOQA program sparked discussions with airport authorities in order to amend approach procedures. We have seen similar situations with aircraft manufacturers as well, in which aircraft operating procedures have been updated.

The important thing to remember with any Flight Data Monitoring/FOQA program is that it really is just one of many tools available to the operator. Safety and efficiency will only improve if decisions are made and actions are taken based on the data provided.

Continuously Monitor

Which leads us to the final stage of closing the loop. And that is to repeat the process and continuously monitor the data. Once decisions have been made, it is important to repeat the process and continue to monitor what your Flight Data Monitoring program is telling you.

This may seem obvious, but it is important to see if those decisions made earlier are having a positive impact on operations. Of course, the intent is that these decisions make a measurable and positive difference, but if not, then it may be time to review the data to find out why not.

With the wealth of data on modern aircraft, there are many parameters that can be reviewed to help determine positive courses of action. Again, the assistance of a third-party Flight Data Monitoring service provider could prove invaluable to smaller operators that may lack the in-house expertise to thoroughly analyze and understand the data.

What’s Next?

Because Flight Data Monitoring programs have their roots in improving operational safety, we’ve focused on the safety merits of reviewing and analyzing flight data. But improving operational safety is by far not the only use for aircraft flight data and all operators would be wise to utilize the data available to them for other uses.

When Flight Data Monitoring was in its infancy, the volume of data available on an aircraft was limited – parameter databases were developed almost exclusively with operational safety in mind. While safety is still the driving force between flight data recorder parameter database development, the number of available parameters recorded today on a modern aircraft has ballooned significantly with many modern aircraft recording over 1000 parameters.

We live in a data-hungry age and the Flight Data Recorder or Quick Access Recorder on a modern aircraft does a great job at satisfying that appetite. In addition to improving safety, flight data can be used to improve operational efficiencies, fuel efficiency and fuel usage monitoring, maintenance operational quality assurance (MOQA), aircraft performance monitoring, etc. At the risk of using a cliché, when external data sources are used to supplement the aircraft flight data, the applications really are endless.

To help accommodate this, most reputable Flight Data Monitoring software or service providers will provide a means of restricting or segregating access to the data so that it can be used in different ways with different access levels by different departments within your organization. This alone significantly improves the value proposition of having such a program.

So, when you think of Flight Data Monitoring, Flight Data Analysis or FOQA, do not just think of safety – there are many more advantages to looking at flight data from a modern aircraft than just improving safety.

More Information

If you have any further questions regarding Flight Data Monitoring, FOQA, C-FOQA or Helicopter FDM, please leave a comment below, or reach out to us through email. We would be happy to hear from you and help clear up any questions you may have.

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