BY NZALPA SENIOR TECHNICAL OFFICER DAVID REYNOLDS
Data that was previously both confidential and sensitive to pilots (i.e. data from flight data recorders (FDRs), flight operational quality assurance (FOQA) and flight data monitoring (FDM)), is now freely accessible to the air operator and those with which it has agreements to process or share this data.
The importance of being attuned to these developments and their potential impact upon pilots and the travelling public cannot be overstated. In the NZALPA Technical Team, we have been working closely with airline safety departments and our pilot representatives on employer councils to ensure that the impacts won’t bypass our existing and long-standing Data Sharing Agreements, which appropriately protect this data and its use for any kind of individual performance monitoring/management.
The digital era is here and, as is the case in all industries, there is now an unprecedented drive by airlines to gain access to and to utilise data at all levels. From the Board level downwards, it’s a must have. However, in aviation it’s very sensitive data which includes data being produced by pilots.
And it’s not just the airline. Those that provide the services to the airline and other industry players are very keen to access, analyse and utilise this, in the case of the 787 – terabytes of data per flight.
Significant benefits and savings are perceived to be had through data access and this is reflected in the substantial investments made or about to be made (depending on your employer) in systems to acquire and utilise this data.
Another development is the truly enormous of amount of data produced by ‘e-enabled’ aircraft such as the 787 and A350 (producing 30 times more data than previous generations), in conjunction with networks such as the Iridium satellite constellation, with its global voice and data coverage capability, data can now be streamed, allowing for near real-time data streaming to and from aircraft. This has been part driven by post MH370/AF447 actions by regulators to enable 24/7 monitoring of an aircraft’s position and status, but also the very real demand from passengers for in-flight wi-fi access 24/7.Not all aircraft are capable of streaming data. This will no doubt come in time. However with the distinct possibility of Cockpit Image Recorders (CIRs) on the horizon, there has likely never been a better time to establish just where employers stand in relation to their plans for data usage.
Airlines are increasingly utilising these systems to transmit data of all kinds, including flight deck system selections, settings and engine performance. Parameters previously utilised by the FDR accessible to only a select view are now potentially available more widely to whomever the Board chooses.
Why is protecting flight data so important?
Flight data recorders (FDRs) are among the most powerful accident and incident investigation tools available.
Pilots allow recording under the strict condition that the data is to be used exclusively for accident and incident prevention and safety. It is one of the few professions that agree to be recorded at their workplace and this consequent infringement of their privacy.
If misused by the public or media, data might generate speculation, interpretations and apportioning blame in a way that may be far removed from the truth.
The security of this recorded information is essential if safety investigators are to continue to utilise it accurately for its prime purpose.