NBAA Convention News

FSF’s corporate FOQA plan keeps growing by the day

 - September 30, 2008, 7:38 AM

The Flight Safety Foundation (FSF) says it could have as many as 75 business jets in its corporate flight-operation quality assurance (C-FOQA) program by the end of next year, more than doubling the number of aircraft covered today. C-FOQA typically involves routine analysis of data from day-to-day flight operations to uncover safety situations and practices that might require corrective action.

FOQA advocates say accidents can be prevented through identification of potential dangers using quick-access flight-data recorders (QARs) and related software for routine data collection. FSF began extending the program two years ago to business aviation, encouraged by feedback from operators after an acknowledged “painfully slow” start. The initial phase began in late 2005 with two Gulfstream IVs and a Dassault Falcon 900.

In 2006, working with NBAA, FSF began to approach more companies, including fractional-ownership providers. Soon, additional corporate flight departments began to show interest, according to original program coordinator Ted Mendenhall, who now plays a lesser, supporting part in the C-FOQA program. Mendenhall has attributed the program’s halting beginning to aircraft hardware and software issues, as well as operators’ legal reservations early on.

Airlines have been using FOQA for years to improve safety. Results of FOQA analysis have been shown to improve operational safety, training effectiveness, airport surface safety and air-traffic control procedures, according to FSF. The main difference between corporate and airline operations is that company fleets are small–usually fewer than four aircraft–so it has taken time to collect a large sample of data.

Now, the program is “building by the day, with very impressive results arising from analysis,” according to FSF executive vice president Robert Vandel. He told NBAA Convention News that companies whose aircraft are taking part in the C-FOQA exercise are “turning the results into flight safety programs.” This year has been the first full test of C-FOQA using multiple corporate aircraft, after the earlier trials with only small numbers of airplanes.

 Most interest has come from companies flying larger corporate jets. “There
is a cost involved, which can make it tough for smaller operators,” according to Mendenhall, who was also a former director of flight operations and chief of safety at Gulfstream.

He said C-FOQA is easier to conduct with larger airplanes, which often have digital flight-data recorders (FDRs) and other relatively sophisticated equipment fitted as standard. Most corporate aircraft do not have FDRs, and few are fitted with solid-state quick-access units.

Following initial trials, FSF was able to begin offering FOQA reports to participating operators, with observations generated through analysis of flights in specific three-month periods. Participating C-FOQA operators send information to a single data processor.

Analysis can compare flight data from one aircraft with information derived from the entire fleet of such aircraft. Alternatively, the owner’s operations manual or standard operating procedures can be contrasted with flight data to determine just how the aircraft are being handled in service. Examination of chosen parameters permits comparison with information on how other operators are using the same types of aircraft, and can identify areas of operation to be studied more closely.

For example, an early C-FOQA exercise considered tailwind approaches, covering selected operational parameters, with particular attention paid to execution of stabilized approaches. The FSF’s approach/ landing accident-reduction (ALAR) risk-assessment analysis includes speed, position above/below the glideslope, rate of descent and distance to run.

Other elements that may be noted include aircraft configuration, ILS-glideslope deviation and power settings. Mendenhall said the handful of aircraft involved in C-FOQA were “enough to prove the concept,” with the initial 700 to 800 results having matched expectations.

With all operators exposed to potential over-runs resulting from flying too fast and delaying the touchdown, analysis can compare approach speed with groundspeed, indicating differences of less than five knots, five- to nine knots, and 10+ knots.
Following early analysis of results, there was concern with the higher speed differentials. FSF officials said they had wanted to see aircraft flying go arounds, but had recognized how often pilots were tempted to put the airplane down.

By year-end, Vandel said he expects that some 35 aircraft will be enrolled in the C-FOQA program, “enough to give us a good feel for the data.” He said he is encouraged that after a period in which he became a “travelling salesman,” shared experience between and among corporate operators and pilots has meant that now “they’re calling me.”