All aircraft operators, regardless of the size of the aircraft operated or the operation, will benefit from participation in a flight data analysis program. Establishing an FDM or Corporate Flight Operations Quality Assurance (C-FOQA) program doesn’t require previous experience in data analysis or extensive training to achieve tangible safety benefits.

There are three main steps for starting an FDM or C-FOQA program:

The size and complexity of a FDM or C-FOQA program should vary with the complexity and size of the operation, the amount of data available for analysis, the number of employees, and the resources available to manage the FDM program. All operators, including operators of a single aircraft or single-pilot aircraft, can benefit from participating in a FDM program.

Some operators, particularly those international, commercial operations with aircraft having a MGTOW of more than 27,000 kg (59,525 lbs), may be required to have an FDM program as part of their safety management system (SMS) according to ICAO standards. All corporate and business aviation operators who operate aircraft that are equipped, or are capable of being equipped, with flight data recorders are strongly encouraged to implement an FDM program on a voluntary basis.

Step 1 – Identify Key Personnel and Stakeholders

When establishing a FOQA program, it will be helpful to involve potential stakeholders since each stakeholder will likely present a distinct set of requirements and needs. Identifying and documenting these requirements early in the process can help serve as a guide when evaluating available technologies used for data collection and processing data, as well as for analyzing and communicating results.

Common Stakeholders / Key Personnel

  • Pilots
  • Flight Department Management
  • Maintenance
  • Standards/Training
  • Scheduling / Dispatch

For operations with multiple aircraft and stakeholders, the FDM program will benefit greatly from the establishment of a FDM monitoring team (FMT) to participate in regular reviews of safety data.

Qualities of a Successful FMT Member

  • Earned trust within the department and the represented workgroup
  • Holds a strong belief in improving safety
  • Demonstrates a commitment to confidentiality
  • Possesses a working knowledge of system safety principles
  • Understands and articulates acceptable performance, event context
  • Ability to identify root cases

FMT Member Key Roles


Gatekeepers are primarily responsible for reviewing data generated from a flight, as well as gathering facts regarding pertinent safety information that will be used by the FMT during their analysis.

The Gatekeeper may be a member of the safety team, or could be a line-pilot. The Gatekeeper should NOT be a member of the management team that has the ability to hire, fire, or initiate disciplinary action.

In some cases, the Gatekeeper will conduct crew interviews to identify factors that may not have been recorded or measured by the FDM program. Documentation of factors that lead to error, along with the hazards and recommendations for safety enhancements, can then be further analyzed by the FMT.

FOQA Analyst

The FOQA analyst is primarily responsible for analyzing aggregate safety data, which may or may not be de-identified. The regular analysis of aggregated safety data is done to assess event trends; identify new or emerging hazards; validate the on-going effectiveness of risk controls; and to coordinate with the Gatekeeper in root cause analysis.

Depending on the size and needs of the flight department, the gatekeeper and analyst roles may be fulfilled by a single person.

Step 2 – Define Program Goals and Safeguards

When establishing a FDM or C-FOQA program, it is important to clearly define the vision and objectives for the program, along with how the results will be used within the department. Objectives that are meaningful, measurable and prioritized will serve as a guide when making key program decisions, and will also be useful in convincing stakeholders and management to invest in an FDM program.

Example Objectives

  • Establish and monitor measurable safety performance parameters that are consistent with the flight department’s mission and risks
  • Implement a data-driven approach to monitoring the risks associated with known hazards
  • Objectively monitor risk controls and mitigations
  • Identify previously unknown hazards or risks
  • Discover opportunities for continuous improvement
  • Support and enhance safety communication
  • Improve training and continuous learning

Tips for Gaining Buy-in

  • Include stakeholders from all parties in development discussions/li>
  • Educate the department and stakeholders about FDM and its benefits/li>
  • Maintain transparency of key decisions and implementation milestones/li>
  • Openly discuss potentially divisive issues before starting a FDM program


Flight departments should define standards for protecting privacy and confidentiality, and establish barriers for unauthorized disclosure, misuse or destruction of data. Security measures and policy should balance the FMT’s access to data with the need to keep certain data confidential.

Operators should avoid de-identification or redaction of parameters that could prevent the FMT or Gatekeeper from identifying root causes or effective mitigations.

Before collecting and analyzing flight data, operators should have a written policy describing the policies and procedures that govern storage, access and security of flight data, as well as its acceptable uses. To ensure the safe handling of data, consider what safeguards are required at each of the following steps:

Data Storage

  • Storage media on aircraft (e.g. SD, PCMA)
  • Laptops, external hard drives, online

Data Transmission

  • Secure file transfer and manually uploading data
  • Wireless data transfers


  • User accounts and types of data access
  • Procedures for requesting access to, or release of, flight data

Limits on Amnesty

Certain events may be excluded from the operator’s confidentiality or de-identification protections provided by the FDM or C-FOQA program and should be included in the program’s written documentation. Examples include events involving alcohol or drugs, criminal activity, intentional disregard for safety, regulatory violations, non-sole source events, or accident or incident investigations.

Step 3 – Select Technology


Airborne Data Collection

Flight data can be obtained from a variety of recording technologies installed in an aircraft. Traditionally, data uploaded for processing in C-FOQA was obtained from either the aircraft’s Digital Flight Data Recorder (DFDR) or a Quick Access Recorder (QAR). Flight data may also be collected from other systems installed in the aircraft such as a G1000, integrated avionics unit, or from a Wireless Quick Access Recorder (WQAR).

A benefit of using an installed flight data recorder is that there may be little to no additional cost to obtain data. Potential challenges to using the DFDR are the maximum storage capacity, which limits the number of stored hours and flight segments, and the difficulty to access the data stored on the DFDR.

Installing a QAR allows operators to record the same types of data as a DFDR – or more. A QAR can provide access in an easy-to-reach location to download data and is capable of storing more flight data between downloads.

When selecting the type of data collection method – manual or wireless – the flight department should weigh the pros and cons of each option.

Wireless Transfer

Pros: Faster access to data, less staff workload
Cons: Higher cost of hardware installation and ongoing wireless data transfer

Manual Transfer

Pros: No additional costs for hardware installation or ongoing wireless data transfers
Cons: Slower access to data, more staff workload

Operators who collect data manually should establish a set schedule for when data will be downloaded from the aircraft, usually either every two weeks or once a month, depending on aircraft usage.

When data is analyzed more frequently, flight crews can be interviewed about specific exceedances or anomalous events closer to when these events occurred, giving them better information recall.

Also, more frequent uploads to the FDM reduce data latency, and ultimately aircraft downtime, allowing operators to more quickly identify exceedances and limit the scope of required return-to-service maintenance and inspections.

FOQA Analysis and Data Management (Software)

FDM/C-FOQA Safety Performance Monitoring Capabilities

Each aircraft has a unique set of parameters that are recorded by the aircraft and each FMD/C-FOQA vendor has unique capabilities to derive parameters that are not recorded by the aircraft or from external data sources.

A common example of this is weather information. Most aircraft do not record basic information contained in a METAR, such as cloud height or visibility. However, this information may be combined with the recorded data from the aircraft to produce additional data insights. More advanced C-FOQA providers can derive missing parameters such as stall speeds, Vref, stall angle of attack and approach procedures.

When evaluating FDM/C-FOQA vendors, obtain a full list of parameters for a specific aircraft and a list of FDM events that are monitored. Document the monitoring capabilities for each aircraft and between vendors. Event definitions should be easy to understand or be explained by the vendor.

Examples of safety monitoring events include the following:

  • Loss of Control Inflight
    • Stall angle of attack, stall speeds, low buffet speeds
    • Bank Angle Limits (high and low altitude)
  • Controlled Flight Into Terrain
    • Terrain, airport/runway, navigation, procedure, weather and lighting
    • Aircraft position (lat/long and altitude)
  • Near Midair Collision
    • TCAS TA, RA
    • Airspace data

Comparing the monitoring capabilities of each aircraft type and vendor capabilities to the department’s overall objectives will be helpful in documenting the total monitoring compatibility of the FDM/C-FOQA program.