Flight Operations Quality assurance (FOQA) or Flight data management (FDM) is the process of collecting and analysing data from flights to improve safety and efficiency of flight operations, ATC procedures and aircraft design/maintenance. Data recordings are done on a regular basis in order to reveal situations requiring corrective actions before problems occur. FOQA findings are kept confidential.
Background of FOQA/FDM
FOQA/FDM was first stupilated by the civil aeronautics administration in 1958. By the 1960s, airlines started using monitoring systems to capture airworthiness data and operational data. A full fledged safety-oriented FOQA program was first implemented and pioneered by British Airways. The implementation of FOQA then slowly spread internationally, with airlines such as JAL actually placing printers in the cockpit so that the pilots can easily obtain flight data. Today, several airlines and air forces are incorporating FOQA into their safety management systems and organisations such as the Indian DGCA are making FOQA mandatory.
Methods used in FOQA/FDM
To institute a FOQA program, 4 basic steps need to be taken. These are :
1) Data recording and retrieval - The first step to this involves capturing data from the flight recorder over the duration of a flight. The data is categorized into different "parameters", such as airspeed or heading. After the flight is conducted, the data is captured and sent for actual analysis. It should be noted that due to the shortcomings of conventional flight data recorders, quick access recorders (QARs) are used to read flight data. The data can be retrieved from the QAR using devices such as memory cards or optical disks.
2) Data processing and analysis - This process involves taking data from the QAR and putting it through processing and analysis equipment in order to decipher it. This is usually done using software such as Aerobytes. The parameters for normal operations are fed as the "standard" into the software and the software then juxtaposes the flight data with the standard data to evaluate the extent to which the flight has conformed to the standard envelope. Special mechanisms are also put into place in order to remove faulty readings and maintain anonymity.
3) Corrective action- After analysing the flight data and investigating any exceedances, the operator or the FOQA manager will contact the aircrew of the flight or an airline pilots association representative to gather more information on the exceedance. After thoroughly investigating and reviewing the cause of any exceedances, the FOQA managers, pilots association and the operators will place the necessary corrective actions into place. The team may implement corrective actions after analysing operational trends on a periodic basis as well.
4) Monitoring - This step involves keeping a watch on flight records to ensure that all flight operations are within their safe envelopes and any exceedances reported for correction. This is usualy done by reviewing FOQA data over an alloted period of time. Data is usually retained for 30 days or less.
The whole FOQA process can be represented by the following diagram :
Courtesy of Aerobytes aviation. Embedded on 22 September 2009
FOQA basically involves collecting flight data, analysing it, reporting any unsafe occurrences using flight data and flight trends, putting corrective actions into place to reduce or remove unsafe trends and monitoring flight data in order to make sure that unsafe flight trends are not occuring and if they are occuring, they need to be accounted for and corrected.