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What is Flight Data Monitoring/Flight Operations Quality Assurance?

The Short Answer

FDM/FOQA is a safety tool. It provides information about flight safety issues to the operator.

The Longer Answer

Accidents normally occur when a number of unfortunate events coincide. Imagine an accident where an aircraft ran off the end of the runway. This might be because the pilot landed faster than normal AND it was raining so the runway was slippery AND a malfunction caused the thrust reversers not to deploy. How can we stop an accident like this? By making sure that nothing that we can control contributes to the sequence of events.

Historically the "Black Box" flight recorder data has only been used after an accident, to find out why an accident occurred. With FDM/FOQA we look at the data on every flight to find if there are any preventable precursors to an accident.

In the imaginary case described above, we cannot prevent rain and slippery runways. We may not be able to prevent the malfunction of the thrust reverser, but if we can make sure that the pilots always land at the correct speed, the three-link chain leading to the accident would be broken.

The More Detailed Answer

Flight data is analyzed from every flight and any moments when the aircraft is flying outside specific boundaries are identified. These are termed "events". There are severe events that should never occur, and it is the responsibility of the flight safety organization to address these with the pilot concerned. It is a foundation stone of FDM/FOQA that this is carried out in a non-punitive way, and to achieve this, the results are held in strict confidence.

At a lower level, there are a larger number of events that are only slightly outside normal operation, and we use statistical analysis to examine these for trends. Trends allow the flight safety organization to identify where they should address their actions, and can also focus their training programs.

Once an operator has taken action to reduce the chance of a problem recurring, FDM/FOQA data can show whether these actions have been effective, and whether they continue to be effective.

Is FDM/FOQA different from FDM?

Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA) is more commonly used in the United States, and Flight Data Monitoring (FDM) elsewhere in the world. Just to add to the confusion, in some references the term Operational Flight Data Monitoring (OFDM) is also used to mean the same thing.

Enough acronyms? There is also a term MOQA, for Maintenance Operations Quality Assurance which is when maintenance issues are identified from flight data, but with no safety implications.

What are the Benefits?

The first step to managing anything is to measure it. FDM/FOQA data provides measurements so that Flight Safety can be managed.

Statistics show how your operation is performing compared with other similar organizations, and whether safety is improving or getting worse.

FDM/FOQA data can also be used to direct your training activities. Rather than training for what you think are the risk areas, you can concentrate on the identified high risk areas.

The outcome? More effective control of safety and more focused training.

Is this a requirement?

FDM is specified as a requirement in Annex 6 of the ICAO Convention on International Civil Aviation for aircraft over 27 tons, and is recommended for aircraft over 20 tons.

This means each of the 189 countries belonging to ICAO has either to introduce this into national law, or file a derogation stating why they do not consider this to be a requirement in their country. At present the USA has made FDM/FOQA a voluntary program, but most other nations have introduced a legal requirement for FDM, or are working towards this position.

What do I need to start an FDM/FOQA program?

  • You need a management commitment to flight safety from the very top of the organization.
  • You need a flight safety department that is able to act independently yet with the confidence of the management.
  • You need aircraft with a Flight Data Recorder.
  • You need analysis expertise.

Ideally, you need a means of comparing the results you have with similar operators.

Is the data processed in flight?

No; it is examined after a flight and for convenience many operators download once a week to fit in with maintenance schedules.

How do you get data off the aircraft?

The most common way is with a Quick Access Recorder that has some sort of removable media (disks or data cards). There are also wireless systems that transfer data after flight automatically. Flight Data Services can advise you about the best solution for your aircraft.

Who does the analysis work?

Analysis can be done by a department within an airline (in-house), or outsourced to a service provider. Flight Data Services is the world's largest provider of outsourced FDM/FOQA services, believing that outsourcing is the most cost effective method of carrying out FDM/FOQA, by reducing operator overheads of training and recruitment of personnel, leave and sickness cover, provision and maintenance of software and hardware, and the use of flight crew on the routine tasks of the FDM/FOQA process.

Powered by innovative Flight Data Connect technology, Flight Data Services' web-enabled service integrates seamlessly into existing Safety Management Systems.

Should you decide to do your own FDM/FOQA in house:

  • You need a means of transferring data from the aircraft to the analysis software.
  • You need analysis software, to the order of £31,000 - £61,000 ($50,000-$100,000) per copy.
  • You need analyst expertise

Will FDM/FOQA save me money?

There are four ways in which FDM/FOQA can save an operator money.

  • You may prevent an accident.
  • You may save money in engine trend costs, and possibly extend the life of the engine.
  • You may save insurance costs. Most insurance companies will reduce rates if an operator can quantify their safety levels and demonstrate they are managing safety.
  • You may save fuel costs. An intelligent fuel monitoring program can identify current practices in flight operations where fuel usage can be reduced.

What is MOQA?

Maintenance Operation Quality Assurance is the engineering equivalent of FDM/FOQA. The objective is to reduce operating costs through improved usage monitoring and reducing unnecessary maintenance.

The opportunity to work with FDS has been a pleasure. Flight Data Services' knowledge and understanding of the safety issues I face in our airline, and how the FOQA program should work, has been refreshing.

Ken Ashby
Director of Safety
Mountain Air Cargo, USA

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