(Note: This article was originally published on October 29, 2020).
At Scaled Analytics, we have been working with flight data in general, and Flight Data Monitoring Programs in particular long enough to see a pattern in the questions we are routinely asked.
Whether you operate an airline, business jet or helicopter and whether you prefer to call it Flight Data Monitoring (FDM), Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA), Corporate FOQA (C-FOQA) or Helicopter FDM (HFDM), there is a good chance you may have made some or all of these assumptions regarding the regular monitoring of aircraft flight data. We would like to shed some light on some of these FOQA “myths” and help answer some of the more common questions we are asked.
Here are our top 5 myths in no particular order:
1. FOQA Programs are Expensive
They used to be. And depending on what vendors you speak to today, they may still be. But they certainly do not have to be.
FOQA programs used to be quite expensive because the software used was very specialized and the hardware they ran on was high-powered and high-priced. Today, the capabilities of modern technology have been exploding while costs have been dropping dramatically. Reduced technology costs mean reduced costs for the end user.
At Scaled Analytics, we utilize the Microsoft Azure Cloud infrastructure which dramatically reduces our overhead compared to systems developed as recently as 10 years ago. This allows us to pass those cost savings on to our customers. On an almost weekly basis, we hear of the exorbitant fees some vendors charge. With today’s advanced technology available, there is no reason why a world class FOQA program should be out of reach of even the smallest operator.
2. FOQA Programs are Difficult to Use and Implement
Again, they used to be. Early FOQA systems, while quite powerful, were also quite complex. Software systems built for in-house FOQA programs sometimes required software engineers, database experts and IT experts to install and configure.
Today, the process is much simpler. At Scaled Analytics, we utilize industry standards such as FRED (Flight Recorder Electronic Documentation) files and modern and proven technologies such as SQL Azure to dramatically reduced the level of effort required to set up new customers within our service. All the customer needs to do is send us their data and aircraft information.
3. FOQA Programs are Only Useful for Large Airlines
This has never been the case. Operators of any size, regardless of type of aircraft flown, can benefit from a FOQA program. We have seen, first hand, operators with one aircraft experience the benefits of the program within just 2 months of collecting and analyzing flight data.
The origin of this myth is likely that in the early days of FOQA programs, only the large airlines could afford to have a program (see Item 1 above) but whether you fly a helicopter, business jet or airliner and whether you have one aircraft or 100, the benefits of looking at flight data are apparent shortly after implementing a program. It is always interesting to see how FOQA data can show an organization information they never realized, despite how well they thought they knew their operation.
And with programs such as our Global Data Sharing Program, which allow aggregate data to be compared anonymously with all operators, there is an incredible amount of safety and operational knowledge available to be gained by even the smallest operator.
4. FOQA Programs are Only for Safety
While it is true that FOQA programs got their start with the purpose of improving operational safety, as the volume of data recorded on a modern aircraft continues to grow, the benefits of a FOQA program can be extended to improving operational efficiency, monitoring maintenance events, monitoring/improving fuel efficiency, improving training programs and reducing maintenance trouble shooting times, among other uses.
A program that involves reviewing flight data can benefit many departments within an organization besides the Safety department. FOQA/Flight Data Monitoring is truly a program that can benefit many departments within an organization.
5. FOQA Programs are Punitive
This has never been the case. Had it been, FOQA programs would likely not have survived as long as they have.
Thankfully, this myth seems to be dying out and we are hearing this concern less and less, but it is still a concern that we hear – and it is a valid concern if you are part of the pilot community.
FOQA programs are designed to look at trends rather than individual crew performance. They are not crew evaluation tools. To combat this concern, many programs incorporate the concept of a “Gate Keeper” who is the only individual within the organization that can review details of a flight that could be considered “identifiable” such as Flight Date and Flight Number.
Of course, smaller organizations could argue that their pilot community is too small to benefit from even a gate keeper role, but such organizations typically have a very positive relationship with management. The key to remember is that the goal of a FOQA program is to benefit the entire organization – including the pilot community.
These are our top 5 FOQA myths? What other “myths” have you heard or what questions do you have about FOQA programs? Let us know by joining us in the comments section below.
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