Two Data Advocates offer consistent views of Aviation Safety Benefits

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The Importance of Big Data to the Future of Aviation Safety

IATA & Boeing Speak

Speaking almost half a world apart (Seoul, Korea at the IATA Safety and Operations Conference vs. Orlando, FL at the AVIATION WEEK MRO Americas Conference) and separated by only two days on the calendar, Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO (April 24) and John Maggiore, Boeing managing director of maintenance and leasing solutions (April 26) spoke about the importance of Big Data to the future of aviation safety. The theme of de Juniac’s address well served as the introduction to Maggiore’s comments.

The head of IATA, at his first Safety and Operations Conference, made it clear that data and the quality of the numbers entered into the computers about the airlines’ operations are critical to the industry’s continuing improvement of its safety record:

An area that I would like to see the industry move ahead with speed is the use of data to improve safety. As important as it is to have effective accident investigations, we need to recognize that investigations are limited in terms of being able to provide the trend-data needed for a systemic risk-based approach to improving safety.

The data generated from the 100,000 safe flights each day can help us understand where the next threat or challenge may arise. The IATA Global Aviation Data Management program or GADM is critical to our future. It already includes data from more than 470 organizations. And over 90% of IATA member carriers are participating in at least one of the many databases that feed into it.

The value of GADM is not theoretical. Information provided through the Flight Data eXchange program—comprising de-identified flight recorder data–has revealed a rising number of “resolution advisories” in certain airspace. In other words, data has identified a problem. And analyzing it further will point us towards the solution.

Moving GADM forward is a top priority. And if you are not already participating in a GADM program, I strongly encourage you to join.

M. de Juniac represents 274 airlines and they are scattered around the globe. Their technical competence is not 100% uniform. The FAA’s Continuous Airworthiness system posed similar challenges. Historically, the reporting of the events under this requirement had some variations. The FAA reinforced the consistency of this documentation through detailed instructions and other documents. Attaining that level of accuracy of the data on a global scale will be difficult.

The hanging question from the IATA speech was answered by the the AvWeek MRO message. As to aircraft, BOEING CAN AND WILL AUTOMATE IT.

Maggiore intimated that the analytics and the assembly of the big data from the Boeing fleet may provide another reason to buy its aircraft. Boeing’s brand may become synonymous with this enhanced capability to collect performance numbers and to forecast solutions before the issue becomes a problem. He pointed out that Boeing has been providing data services for years and thinks it can offer a more-complete solution to the marketplace in coming years.

Maggiore pointed out that Boeing is likely a better option than pure big data and analytics service companies. In that his employer is the manufacturer of the aircraft being monitored, its comprehension of the design, engineering and aerodynamics creates greater insights, As the OEM, Maggiore asserted, Boeing is a better judge of whether “the results are deliverable, actionable and acceptable within customer cultures such as individual airlines. It’s not that easy to do these four things.”

The Boeing data integration and offering of individualized “fixes” for airline customers is a compelling and fascinating concept. The preventive promise of these advisories will merit consideration of their regulatory authority. As this proposed process matures, the FAA, Boeing and the relevant airlines will have to answer questions like:

  • Will a Boeing Big Data Analytic Solution (BBDAS) supplant ADs?
  • Will the BBDAS be mandatory on each airline with the Boeing aircraft subject to this “notice”?
  • Will it include a required compliance date?
  • Will the BBDAS be archived at the FAA, Boeing, the airlines, NTSB?
  • If the Boeing system is as effective as anticipated, will other OEMs implement that BBDAS or its equivalent?

These are not insurmountable quandaries, but some sort of regulatory record is needed to document these solutions.

IATA’s Director General emphasized the need for excellent data as a prime mechanism for aviation safety. Boeing’s managing director of maintenance and leasing solutions pointed to his company’s competencies as a possible, consistent source for those numbers.


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