En route to safer skies
- By Paula Shaki Trimble
- Aug 07, 2000
A proposed rule at the Federal Aviation Administration could give the agency
a better picture of safety trends by providing access to airlines' digital
If the rule is finalized, which the FAA predicts could happen in about
a year, it would help the agency use aggregate data from multiple air carriers
to make policy decisions about the future of the National Airspace System.
The Flight Operational Quality Assurance Rule, which was proposed June
30, would require any airline that participates in an FOQA program to use
sophisticated analysis tools to submit periodic reports to the FAA. Identification
would be stripped from the reports, and the airlines would never submit
data about an individual flight or pilot.
The rule comes on the heels of an FAA program that encourages voluntary,
anonymous reporting of safety problems, except in cases of criminal activity.
"The FAA's purpose in acquiring this information is for safety enhancement,
not to take action against an airline," said Tom Longridge, FAA program
manager for Flight Operational Quality Assurance. Longridge said the information
would be used to concentrate on shared goals — such as reducing the accident
rate — by mining the airlines' data for trends in faulty equipment or problems
with approaches at certain airports.
The FAA's goal is to reduce the commercial aviation accident rate by
80 percent by 2007.
"If you see trends taking place across airlines, it might be an indication
of a problem with how FAA manages the airspace system at a national level,"
Long-ridge said. "We no longer have to depend on people's opinions on this.
We can use objective, quantitative data."
Under the rule, the FAA would provide participating airlines with software
to convert data into a standard format for flight data recorder — "black
box" — reporting. The software is capable of translating raw data to correspond
with events significant to airline operations, such as descent speed, Longridge
said. The FAA has developed a list of standardized events.
The airlines would transmit the reports to the FAA via a secure Internet
transaction using an IPSec-compliant virtual private network client and
standard World Wide Web browser. The user would have a user name, password
and digital certificate to access the VPN.
The FAA would store the reports in a large-scale relational database.
The FAA's internal analysis and distribution system uses commercial standards
and software for data storage and retrieval.
UPS and eight passenger airlines already have FOQA programs: Alaska
Airlines, Continental Airlines, Continental Express, Delta Air Lines, Northwest
Airlines, TWA, United Airlines and US Airways. The FAA's FOQA budget for
2000 is $3 million, and the 2001 request for the program is $2.2 million.
Individual airlines would be responsible for initiating corrective action
for safety problems in airline operations or aircraft, Longridge said. The
FAA's role is to make sure corrective intervention was implemented and to
determine if it was effective, he said.
The rule has the potential not only to improve air safety but also to
increase the efficiency of the National Airspace System. The FAA's flight
inspection team, which uses a fleet of aircraft to test and certify navigational
aids and airport approaches, sees the data as a way to make FAA instrument
approach procedures more accommodating to different aircraft.
A big push in safety programs is to make approaches into airports simpler
for pilots and to take into account the needs of different types of aircraft,
said Jon Phelps, the FAA's director of safety and quality assurance in the
Aviation Systems Standards group in Oklahoma City.