Flight Data Analysis: Why and What For?
Published by: SOMA Team - - April 13, 2022

According to the design regulations for passenger and cargo aircraft, each aircraft must be equipped with flight and voice data recorders.

Over the years, such equipment has evolved in technology, construction, and to the same extent the maintenance requirements and uses to which it can be put have increased.

Specifically for flight data recorders, depending on the year of construction of the aircraft and its maximum weight, one can find systems capable of recording from 18 to 32 mandatory parameters, and several hundred non-mandatory ones.

Although it might be thought that the use of the data recorded by this equipment is only for forensic purposes, in practice airlines can benefit enormously from this large amount of data which is recorded up to 8 times per second, depending on the parameter.

The translation of the recorded (purely binary) data into digestible data is done through the “Data Frame Layout”, i.e. the conversion matrix that governs the location of each recorded parameter in the continuous structure of the binary data (which bits correspond to a certain parameter, and what are its equations or conversion tables).

This latter process requires extensive engineering to construct the layout, which varies between fleets, but even between the same model families.

Regulatory compliance

Depending on the country of registration of the aircraft, the operator must ensure that the recording system complies with the regulations governing commercial or private operation.

In either case, the operator must ensure that the system is recording the mandatory parameters with good quality.

Verification, in most regulatory codes, has a 1-year repeat period. This is what is commonly known as a Readout, and allows to know if the parameters are being recorded at the required sampling rate, that the data is consistent (consistency check) and that related parameters are matched (correlation). It can be accompanied by graphs and tables to help interpret the data.

Maintenance monitoring

There are organizations that take advantage of data recorded on flight recorders, or on bulk data recording equipment (QAR’s), to monitor aircraft and engine systems data.

In the case of aircraft, periodic analysis of data from certain systems can help predict or detect failures that would otherwise be difficult to discover, when for example they cannot be reproduced on the ground. This applies particularly to recent generation aircraft, where many more parameters are recorded than the mandatory ones.

In the case of engines, the periodic download of flight data can be imported into the Engine Condition Monitoring (ECM or EHM) software, greatly increasing the quality of the data input, and consequently the predictive capability of the software. For example, gas-path deterioration can be easily detected by studying the engine temperature trend.

Event analysis

As the main reason for the system, the analysis of events such as hard landings, excessive take-off rotation, operation during emergencies, is performed by downloading and interpreting the recorded data. For this purpose, the analysis is complemented with the graphing of mandatory parameters and eventually with additional ones that may provide useful information for the investigation of the aviation safety department. Additionally, the animations can be used to be studied in de-briefings with crews and even during training sessions.

Flight data monitoring

In recent years, the use of recorded data has been extended to aircraft operation, beyond maintenance itself.

Many organizations have adopted predictive analysis, with the aim of recording abnormal trends in operation. For example, an increase in take-off rotation rate can trigger an alert, and prevent a tail skid incident. If these parameters were not observed, it would be impossible to detect such a trend in the crews’ flight techniques, and it would only be discovered after forensic analysis (when the aircraft has already suffered damage, causing costly cancellations and delays). Like this example, others related to flight technique can be cited, and most of them can be detected through statistical methods that study flight data as a macro, rather than in the detail of a flight.

This is known as Flight Data Monitoring FDM, or Flight Operations Quality Assessment FOQA. Depending on the regulation under which the operation is certified, these analyses are required as a formal program to be complied with.

All of these analyses and programmes obviously require equipment (to download and interpret the data), training (to manipulate the data and create the layouts), and the expertise of dedicated staff. Small organisations may not be able to afford the investment to achieve compliance with these programmes, and many choose to outsource the service.

Our experience in software development in the aeronautical field has led us to enter the flight data management business, and we have developed with our partners the capability to offer Readout, Event Analysis and Flight Data Monitoring (FDM/FOQA) services to our customers.

Sante Brucoli

FDR Analysis Manager – Soma Aeronautical Software

Sante Brucoli is a consultant with extensive experience in the aeronautical and aerospace industry. During his engineering career he has specialised in avionics, aircraft maintenance and airline management. Soma Software Aeronáutico is honoured to have Sante as part of its team of consultants.

If you would like to learn more about Soma Software’s Flight Data Recorder service, please contact us at www.somasoftware.com.

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