February 13, 2013

For years, operators in the U.S. have collected and used flight operations quality assurance (FOQA) data to improve safety. Beginning with airlines, then including business aviation with C-FOQA (for “corporate”), sharing and analyzing flight data has given the industry deeper insight into flight operations and more information to mitigate risk.

Now, the Flight Safety Foundation (FSF) has launched a new program to promote sharing aviation safety information derived from operational data – just like FOQA – worldwide.

“We’re looking to gather data on flight operations, like you would collect with FOQA, from other countries around the world,” said Kevin Hiatt, president and CEO of FSF. “FSF would de-identify the data, process it, and share it so everybody can benefit from it. We’ll be able to identify issues within regions, and compare what’s happening in one region with what’s happening in another.”

The program was announced in November 2012, and already organizations in Singapore, Indonesia, Brazil and some Caribbean countries have expressed interest in gathering this kind of data and sharing it with FSF.

“Our partners work to ensure the data gathering programs conform with international standards, and FSF makes sure the information is beneficial to everyone,” said Hiatt. “It’s an effective partnership.”

Protecting Operators’ Data, Providing Access to Reports

Operators that have FOQA or similar safety programs have their own privacy protections in place in their monitoring. If they elect to share the data with others, it’s completely de-identified, then “contributed to a common bucket,” as Hiatt puts it, a worldwide database of anonymous operational information that FSF is compiling.

“This kind of program will only be effective if people trust in the system they’re participating in,” said NBAA’s Doug Carr, vice president for safety, security, operations & regulation. “With the appropriate protections, safety data-sharing is a good thing for aviation globally.”

Operators that elect to share their data will be able to access the global database and generate reports. Similar to the Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) system the FAA runs for air carriers, Hiatt explains operators will receive a web login to a global safety database. On the website, participants will be able to compare their operations to other contributors – anonymously – with similar operational profiles.

“For example, you can query the database for operators that fly the Gulfstream 450 and frequently use Teterboro Airport,” said Hiatt. “You can identify any issues you have in common: aircraft performance problems, air traffic control (ATC) issues, human factors, etc., or areas where you stand out.”

Being able to see the big picture is what Hiatt expects to be most helpful to operators. Ultimately, Hiatt sees the ability to collect, analyze and compare this kind of information as leading to a powerful new approach to aviation safety.

“Originally, our industry’s approach to safety was reactive: after an event happened, we’d investigate why, then put safeguards in place,” said Hiatt. “Now with SMS, we’re moving toward a proactive model: we look for and mitigate risk. The next phase of aviation safety will be predictive. We’ll be able to predict what event is going to happen and when it’s going to happen. That’s what this worldwide information sharing program is about.”