Data Analysis Key to Effective Flight Department SMS

 - June 3, 2021, 6:12 PM

Data analytics and their use in safety management systems (SMS) was the focus of the final session of the virtual Flight Safety Foundation/NBAA Business Aviation Safety Summit Thursday afternoon. Moderated by Fred Calvert, director of safety assurance for Executive Jet Management, the session featured panelists Chad Brewer of the FAA, Steve Bruneau of Polaris Aero, and Capt. Jared Taylor of Johnson & Johnson Aviation. They discussed ways in which data analysis is useful in improving SMS by helping to make it proactive instead of reactive.

“As safety professionals that do this full time," Calvert said, "we have our knowledge of flight operations, we have our knowledge of maintenance, we have our knowledge of flight dispatch, SMS…but now our new challenge is to become data scientists, being able to take our rules as safety assurance directors and take that data and actually do something with it to predict what could happen to our operation if we continue going down the path we’re on now. Data is our friend. It is the thing that will keep us from getting in trouble someday.”

Brewer, an operational safety analyst in the FAA’s office of accident investigation and prevention, discussed the agency’s Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) program, a government and industry initiative to discover where accidents could occur and prevent them through voluntary, unidentifiable, and non-punitive reporting that’s aggregated from operators including Part 135 businesses, corporate flight departments, and flight schools. “We are constantly mining that data, looking for vulnerabilities within the system,” Brewer explained. “In other words, we look for the unknowns or that needle in a haystack.”

He noted that in some cases operators are flying the same type of aircraft and through the same airspace as others, and from ASIAS they can “leverage the information provided by others to look deeper into [their] own operation and have the necessary discussions with [their] flight crews to aid in awareness” of avoiding a potential safety issue.

Bruneau noted that in an effective SMS that includes data analysis an operator needs to have properly trained people who are engaged in the program and encouraged to participate, as well as processes that aren’t overly burdensome and bureaucratic. It also requires technology that “can’t be an albatross around the neck of your people.”

He added, “We’ve all seen situations where you have the greatest culture in the world but you’ve kind of tapped out your ability to keep up if you don’t have the right technology. We’ve seen the other side where you have the greatest technology in the world, but people aren’t really trained in it, no one really uses it. Therefore, it’s essentially a paperweight.”

Johnson & Johnson’s Taylor, a pilot and flight department safety manager, said data collection and analysis is the fundamental component of the company’s SMS, and it collects that information through a variety of means, including a hazard incident identification tracking system, FOQA, and a fatigue risk management system. “One of the things we learned is we need to collect data that is not collected by a system so, for instance, callouts, sterile cockpit, checklist usage,” he said.

“These are primary components of our operation on every single flight but there’s no tool out there to actually track that,” Taylor noted. "So we incorporated that into a post-flight summary and we keep a running total of that and it has visibility on our [SMS] portal.”

That portal was designed by J&J’s in-house technology department and tracks where the aviation department is doing well and where it needs to improve on its SMS. “The point is we collect data from each and every one of these processes,” he said. “And all of this data impacts the decisions we make in this department.”