An article in this month's issue discusses a subject familiar to readers of Avionics Magazine--but from a very different perspective. We describe the U.S. Department of the Navy's plans to adapt a concept pioneered by the airline industry: flight operations quality assurance (FOQA). The objectives--safety and efficiency--are similar in the commercial and military sectors. But U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aviation operates in a vastly different environment from the commercial sector, requiring a different approach. Program planners at the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) have modified the approach to have the most immediate impact possible on safety.
Planners of NAVAIR's military FOQA program, known as MFOQA, anticipate a decentralized implementation, focusing software tools at the small unit level. (Some tools may be based on commercial off-the-shelf products, but the differences between airline and military operations are so great that much software probably will be unique.) Planners place great emphasis on the download, visualization and analysis of pertinent data--at the local level--as soon as possible after a flight because it is at the unit level that such tools can most immediately affect operational safety. A decentralized structure also is more flexible, capable of adapting to a variety of command sizes and structures.
A decentralized approach is the best fit for practical reasons, as well. The Navy and Marine Corps fly many types of aircraft, perform a wide array of missions, employ different tactics, and use a wide spectrum of equipment. Because the Department of the Navy's program cannot mandate changes to onboard equipment, the data collected and benefits conferred will differ across the fleet, providing maximum leverage within communities of similar aircraft. The data can be aggregated for trending purposes, but its primary impact will be local.
Now in concept development, the program is intended to reduce the number of preventable accidents and maximize maintenance dollars. Four demonstrations are planned--two of them already active--involving Navy and Marine Corps rotary-wing and fixed-wing aircraft. These demonstrations will familiarize operators with the concept and gather their inputs about how the technology should be developed and used. The services have been spurred by the civilian leadership's call for further increases in their levels of safety and readiness.
A crucial next step will be gaining the acceptance of Navy and Marine Corps aircrews. The Office of the Secretary of Defense has made it clear that MFOQA data is not to be used punitively except in cases of blatant disregard for regulations and procedures. Although pilots typically don't like to be monitored in their work space, the safety benefits could make a persuasive case. A key objective of the ongoing demonstrations is to get the input of the operators in order to design a program that is most useful to them.
If flight operations quality assurance earns its keep in the financially strapped commercial aviation sector--with its more homogeneous fleets and more standardized procedures--the core concepts should be even more useful in the more varied, dynamic and difficult military environment.
SV/EV Special Committee
Last month's editorial discussed the potential benefits of synthetic vision and enhanced vision (SV/EV) technologies. FAA probably will call this year for the formation of an RTCA special committee with a brief to consider both technologies. We implied that the committee would address synthetic vision first. However, an FAA official says the committee may take up EV first, and then a combination EV/SV approach. This despite manufacturers' growing demand for FAA to approve SV technologies. Regardless of the order in which the technologies will be addressed, however, both hold strong potential for enhancing safety.