FSF Seeks to Help Aviation Improve Safety Data Collection, Sharing

By Woodrow Bellamy III  | December 14, 2016
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[Avionics Magazine 12-14-2016] Flight Safety Foundation’s (FSF) three-year Global Safety Information Project (GSIP) will conclude in 2017, as the organization seeks to help improve the way aviation stakeholders use Safety Management Systems (SMS) processes for safety data collection and sharing. Avionics Magazine recently caught up with FSF’s Vice President, Technical, Mark Millam to discuss what the final year of the GSIP project will focus on.

FSF launched GSIP in 2015, with a focus on collecting information from aviation industry stakeholders within the Asia-Pacific and Pan American regions pertaining to safety data collection and processing. Throughout 2015 and 2016, the Washington D.C.-based organization planned focus groups featuring Asia Pacific and Pan American operators, regulators, pilots, manufacturers and other participants to develop methods for ensuring that all of these different stakeholders can start using the data they collect in an actionable and meaningful way. Millam said the focus now is on producing toolkits that have a standardized way for collecting safety data and ensuring information protection for everyone involved.

What the GSIP project has discovered is that there are primarily three ways in which aviation safety data is collected. The first way is from public safety information and accident investigations. Second, aviation stakeholders also collect safety data through mandatory occurrence reporting, which are incidents that produce information that is routinely shared with aviation regulators or investigative authorities. The third category is everything related to the use of a Safety Management System (SMS), including audit compliance data and voluntary safety reports coming from individuals such as pilots or maintenance workers. SMS data collection can also include flight data monitoring of data produced directly by a flight data recorder.

Another interesting find from the project’s workshops and surveys so far are differences in how safety data is collected and shared, or not shared, in different regions.

In Asia Pacific, there’s a lot of data being collected and crunching of numbers, but not as much with sharing. Whereas on the Pan American side, there’s not so much emphasis on data crunching and collection of information internally held by organizations, but there is a little more sharing of information that occurs there,” said Millam.

GSIP’s researchers also discovered in both regions something that is a common thread among operators in the United States and around the world, which is some resistance to information sharing for fear of backlash. For example, airline pilots being asked for voluntary reports may have to admit to making mistakes or errors that lead to a safety-related incident or occurrence. However, pilots will resist sharing this type of information because they fear it could be used by their organization or their civil aviation regulator against them in a negative way. This is one area where GSIP’s toolkits aim to help organizations ensure safety data is being collected only in an effort to help make systematic improvements either for the Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP), regulatory authority or other operators.

Some examples include common mistakes committed on approach paths, which could imply that the airspace isn’t managed as well as it could be. Having protections in place as safety improvements are generated, is a need that cuts across many different stakeholders. If we find an area that provides an opportunity to make some improvements in safety, having protections in place can ensure that we aren’t approaching that problem by simply finding a culprit and dealing with the culprit,” said Millam.

Through its different workshops, GSIP also searched for Service Performance Indicators (SPIs) organizations commonly use to provide a sense of how safe their operation is on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. One of the most commonly used SPIs presented by FSF during a webinar last September was a focus on runway safety by airlines. Some of the most commonly used SPIs in this area include hard landings, unstable approaches and long landings among others.

Currently the GSIP researchers are summarizing the findings of its surveys and workshops that will be included in a report on the second year of the project to be released in 2017.

We’re going to be taking our findings to organizations that we think have mature programs and sharing our results and doing validations with them. Focusing on what they’ve learned as they dug deeper themselves into data and used it and shared it, we may set up an exchange of information in terms of what are specific organizations using. When it comes to safety performance indicators, a key part of Annex 19, some of them may become some of the top critical performance indicators for airlines, and definitely there’s some reasons that some of the regulators might want to have a means to monitor this data too,” said Millam.

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