Analyzing or monitoring flight data is not a new concept, but it is surprising just how many misconceptions and myths there are regarding this remarkably important tool, especially now that modern technology has made it more accessible to smaller aircraft operators.
What exactly is Flight Data Monitoring (FDM) and how does it benefit operators? To find out, we contacted Dion Bozec of Scaled Analytics, based in Ottawa, on, who is passionate about developing modern FDM programmes.
In a nutshell, FDM, also commonly known as Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA) or Flight Data Analysis (FDA), is a programme in which flight data is recorded and analyzed, with the goal of improving operating procedures and safety. With the right FDM system in place, operators benefit from increased operational efficiency and profitability.
According to Bozec, one of the biggest myths or assumptions is that FDM is a punitive programme, intended to evaluate pilots. Instead, FDM programmes are designed to look at trends, rather than individual performance, benefiting the entire company, including its pilots.
Many operators also erroneously believe that FDM is expensive, difficult to implement and only useful for airlines. In the past, FDM or FOQA systems were complex, requiring expensive hardware, highly specialized software and a host of engineers and it experts to manage the programme. Thankfully, technology has progressed to the point where this is no longer the case. Today, FDM is accessible and beneficial to any operator, regardless of the size of its fleet, even if it has only one light aircraft or helicopter.
FDM was originally developed to enhance safety and it continues to serve as a valuable component of safety management systems, but there is considerably more to the story than that. “A programme that involves reviewing flight data can benefit many departments within an organization, besides the safety department,” said Bozec. “An FDM programme can be extended to improving operational efficiency, monitoring maintenance events, monitoring or improving fuel efficiency, improving training programmes and reducing maintenance trouble shooting times, among other uses.”
As an example, with the use of FDM, an operator with only one aircraft in its fleet was able to detect a recurring problem with unstable approaches. A trend was discovered, measures were put in place and the number of unstable approaches was dramatically reduced.
Another operator had occasional overtemp problems with a turboprop engine on one of its aircraft. Each time an overtemp was indicated, the aircraft was grounded and its flight data recorder sent to the recorder’s manufacturer, which would download the data file and send it to the operator. On each occasion, the process would take five days, before the decision on whether the aircraft could fly was made. Now, with more modern techniques, retrieving the same information would take mere minutes, dramatically reducing the aircraft’s time on the ground.
Understanding the process
How exactly does FDM work? The first step is to record flight data. Most transport aircraft and helicopters have crash resistant Flight Data Recorders (FDR), called ‘black boxes’ by the media. These data recorders serve as hard drives, storing all the information sent to it by the aircraft’s Flight Data Acquisition Unit (FDAU).
Data can be recovered with a download unit and used for FDM, but there are disadvantages to using an FDR for this purpose. FDRs are only required to record 25 hours of data, download units are expensive and, depending on the aircraft, it might be difficult to access.
As a result, it might make more sense to use a Quick Access Recorder (QAR). This device is effectively a flight data recorder that is not crash survivable. Compared with an FDR, a QAR is small, light, easily accessible, more affordable and able to record more than 400 hours of information.
That said, these data recorders may not even be necessary. If the aircraft has modern avionics, such as the Garmin G1000, data can simply be saved on a memory card and used as part of an FDM programme. This can be particularly useful to smaller commercial operators or flying schools, as glass cockpits have become increasingly popular in even light general aviation aircraft.
Once the data has been downloaded, it needs to be processed by specialized software, which converts raw binary data into meaningful information. The software also looks for ‘events’ or situations where predefined limits were exceeded.
The resulting statistics and ‘events’ are then reviewed by a flight data analyst, who is able to identify unsafe or inefficient trends in flight operations. These steps can be accomplished with the help of a service provider. This would be particularly useful to smaller operators, which would otherwise need to employ a data analyst.
Once the information has been reviewed and examined, an analyst presents it to the operator’s decisionmakers in the form of charts or flight animations. Actionable, informed decisions can then be made to improve safety, efficiency and profitability. By continuously monitoring flight data, the impact and value of those decisions can be measured as the organization keeps working toward perfection.
In recent years, the cost of technology has become more affordable, creating real opportunities for smaller operators to benefit from FDM. With solutions provided by the likes of Scaled Analytics, decisionmakers and maintenance engineers are now able to access vital flight data and statistics online from anywhere in the world, quicker than ever.
For further information on how to benefit from the latest technology in Flight Data Monitoring, visit www.scaledanalytics.com