Within safety management systems (SMS) an important component is collecting safety data. As SMS becomes more established, business aircraft operators are also becoming more effective in their safety efforts.
The U.S. FAA collects business aircraft safety data through continued operational safety oversight. The data is collected according to the National Flight Standards Work Program Guidelines (NPG) and analyzed annually. “A five-year analysis of NPG data for business aircraft operations does not reveal any areas of concern. Additionally, voluntary safety programs continue to enhance air carrier safety through partnership in several ways," says the FAA. “One way is encouraging employees of certificate holders or other operators to voluntarily report safety information that may be critical to identifying potential precursors to accidents. The primary goal is to decrease accidents, incidents and violations, better identify risks to public safety, implement risk reduction strategies based on data, and track the effectiveness of these strategies.
Other ways the FAA believes voluntary safety programs are improving safety include encouraging operators to identify and correct their own safety problems, achieving corrective action for events that would otherwise remain unknown, identifying industry-wide problems that cannot be solved at the local level, providing the FAA with better insight into safety issues in order to make better regulatory decisions, and promoting cooperation among the organization, the FAA, and the participating third parties.
According to Doug Carr, NBAA vice president for regulatory and international affairs, the value of data collection lies in the fact that it measures safety performance. “Data collection is helping the operators to understand where their performance is not as expected and then leading to opportunities to improve that performance," he said. “This can be through dedicated training opportunities as part of normal training or by understanding whether there are systemic factors affecting performance and therefore interacting with other stakeholders, such as air traffic control and airports, to improve the overall system.
The spectrum of data that can be collected within SMS is wide. “There is a baseline level of data collection capability through the likes of apps that one can install on the phone as well as, at the opposite end, very high-quality sophisticated numbers generated by parameter recording devices that really provide a detailed view of what is happening on board the aircraft," said Carr.
An area that has led to operators focussing on their own improvement through training has been measuring how far down the runway a touchdown occurs. This is data that comes from equipment onboard the aircraft. “One NBAA member operator found that their average touchdown distance past the threshold of the runway was about 1,750 feet. Based on their performance and locations, they felt that was too high of a risk, and so working with their training provider they were able to focus on better landing touchdown performance through subsequent training opportunities, which then led to an actual operational improvement by moving that average touchdown distance from 1,750 feet to about 1,300. They felt this was a real performance improvement,” said Carr.
Collected and analyzed data is now driving safety decision making, even on the regulatory side. The FAA leverages data to direct resources toward continued operational safety oversight and to inform rulemaking, guidance development, and revision. An example is the MU-2 training program. “Safety data identified inadequacies in MU-2 training. In partnership with industry, we developed, and through rulemaking and Advisory Circular guidance, implemented an improved MU-2 training program. The MU-2 community now enjoys improved safety through consistent and accurate flight training”, said the FAA.
For Part 135 specifically, the FAA’s Flight Standards reviews data and creates surveillance plans using the Safety Assurance System (SAS). “The safety of certificate holders’ operating systems is assessed using system safety principles, safety attributes, and risk management. SAS also assesses the requirement to provide service at the highest level of safety in the public interest," according to the FAA. “SAS incorporates five business process modules for both certification and oversight of certificate holders or applicants. One of the modules is specifically used by the principal inspectors (PI) or certification project managers (CPM) to develop a risk-based, data-supported comprehensive assessment plan. This plan assists the PI/CPM with resourcing decisions based on the certificate holder’s (or applicant’s) compliance with regulations and the design of the programs. As aviation safety inspectors conduct oversight, the data gathered using SAS data collection tools, is analyzed and directly supports risk-based decision making, and results in ongoing updates to the surveillance plans as necessary."
Over the years, lessons have been learned and continuous improvement has been and is being achieved through industry collaborative efforts. “We collaboratively work with industry partners through educational programs, seminars, and direct involvement with industry. Our strategy of continuing a positive working relationship with industry and encouraging them to continuously improve through voluntary SMS programs and adherence to advisory guidance has proven to be most successful," the agency concluded.