Data from an aircraft is first analysed to identify any exceedances – that is to say any events where the flight manual limitations or guidelines were breached. This is a specialist task undertaken by flight data analysts using sophisticated software tools. Once an event has been identified, an engineer will review the data to confirm its validity, after which the flight safety officer further investigates the circumstances behind the event. Depending on the arrangements within the company, the pilot in command/flying the aircraft at the time of the event will be consulted by the flight safety officer or a union representative. This may result in a formal Air Safety Report (ASR) being raised, or simply an enhancement of the FDM event report. Either way, the involvement of the pilot greatly improves the value of the report.
A just or “no blame” reporting culture is essential if a complete picture of the causal factors behind an event is to be identified. Where the national legal system is such that pilots may be liable to prosecution if events are investigated openly, or the company safety culture is immature, then the anonymity of the crew can be ensured by “de-identifying” the data and through the close involvement of pilot unions or associations in the FDM process. The reluctance of pilots within an airline to contribute to the FDM process is not an indication of any lack of professionalism on their part, but an indication of fear of punishment. Resolution of this fear lies in the hands of the leadership of the company. It is important to realise that the vast majority of accidents within an organisation are the result of a combination of systemic or organisational failures and not the fault of an individual.
Each individual event needs to be investigated and appropriate management decisions made by the airline. Event data may also be pooled with other airlines so wider and longer-term trends can be identified and corrective action taken. Importantly, analysts can also analyse the collected data from normal operations to identify trends before there is a significant event or incident. Both approaches to analysis work together to give the safety officer a greater insight into what is happening within the company. Clearly, the more detailed and imaginative the analysis, the greater the value of the Flight Data Monitoring programme to the company, but equally the greater the resources required for the task.
Please note that in terms of Flight Monitoring the requirements are now as follow:
- Recommended for aircraft with MTOW > 20T (OACI annexe 6)
- Required for aircraft with MTOW > 27T (OACI annexe 6)
- Required by IOSA (IATA) for all aircraft from 01/01/2010