Safety remains the number one priority of the FAA. Among all types of operations, general aviation has for many years held the highest accident rate as well as the largest number of operational hours. Rotorcraft operations by U.S. registered general aviation rotorcraft and U.S. public use rotorcraft also feature noteworthy yearly accident counts, greater than that for air taxi, commuter, and large air carrier operations combined. Accordingly, significant efforts made by the FAA and several other stakeholders are dedicated to improve the safety record of general aviation operations, including rotorcraft.
Although flight data recording (FDR) systems had once constituted only a reactive safety tool for accidents or incidents, a paradigm shift towards a continuous and proactive assessment of aircraft utilization has emerged and is gaining traction. The latter has taken the form of voluntary safety programs such as flight data management (FDM) services and FOQA. Widespread adoption and utilization of these safety systems remains a significant challenge in the general aviation community, including rotorcraft operations. Although helicopter FDM standards exist, the safety record raises the questions about the adequacy of events, parameters, and corresponding exceedances and recording rates currently in place. A centralized database of identified rotorcraft FDM data for safety analysis by FAA and other stakeholders would be of immense value, but has not existed, until now.
FAA greatly desires safety improvements in rotorcraft operations. It is expected that FDM and associated products and services can contribute significantly, subject to its widespread adoption and ongoing improvements made possible by engagement with the rotorcraft safety community and availability of FDM data upon which analyses may be conducted.
What does this all mean for the rotorcraft community? FAA’s Partnership to Enhance General Aviation Safety Accessibility and Sustainability (PEGASAS) is currently conducting a research project involving FDM. This project is a joint venture with FAA subject matter experts (SMEs) and selected universities such as Florida Institute of Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Ohio State University, Purdue University, Texas A&M and Iowa State University. I’m very fortunate to work with Florida Institute of Technology’s team. There are other stakeholders involved with the project such as CAE Flightscape, HAI, IHST and several of the military services.
The research objectives seek to examine the current state of rotorcraft FDM products and services, implement a system for data collection and analysis, and identify shortcomings with corresponding means of improvement as supported by data analysis and engagements with SMEs. These include:
• Benchmark the current state of the art of rotorcraft FDM products and services as a voluntary mechanism for safety.• Enable the procurement of an integrated rotorcraft FDM database and analysis capability and secure the collection of FDM for analysis.• Review the current events, parameters, and corresponding exceedances and recording rates of rotorcraft FDM systems.
This is a yearlong project that began in September 2013 and will end in summer 2014.
The project began with the team conducting an extensive literature review of the flight data management process to examine which operators are using FDM, what type they are using and what benefits are being reported. The next step with the project will be to collect FDM data from stakeholders then analyze this data. The final step will be to report the findings to FAA and rotorcraft community.
FDM is also a “hot topic” at Heli-Expo this year with several FDM presentations on the schedule during the Rotor Safety Challenge. The team is also working with IHST to promote safety among smaller operators where FDM is not utilized but will benefit from the results of the research project. Check the Heli-Expo schedule to review times and locations of all of the safety presentations.
FDM is an excellent tool for large and small operators, manufacturers and any other stakeholders involved in the rotorcraft community to improve safety. As always, Take Action to Fly Safe!