The modern general aviation airplane has data flowing from it like never before. The flood started with digital engine monitors. Then electronic flight decks came along, capable of storing a vast array of information about each flight for later retrieval and analysis, which is especially valuable in a training environment. Now it’s ADS-B, which literally tracks our position, every heading change and altitude excursion with uncanny accuracy and—with the right equipment—for anyone to see.
Larger airplanes—business jets and airliners—have been installing digital flight data recorders (DFDRs) for some time, whether required or not, as well as quick-access recorders (QARs) which, as their name implies, are designed to provide operators with a similar source of data as the DFDR but retrievable without disturbing the required equipment. Analysis of QAR data by the operator has facilitated reconstruction of in-flight events, and using DFDR data to reconstruct accident sequences has provided government and operators alike key insights into how mishaps occur. If only all that data could be used to identify problems before they happened, and track the successes.
In 2007, the FAA contracted with the not-for-profit research and development management firm MITRE Corporation to develop and operate the Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing program (ASIAS). According to the FAA, ASIAS is a “collaborative information sharing program” designed “to proactively analyze broad and extensive data sources towards the advancement of safety initiatives and the discovery of vulnerabilities in the National Airspace System (NAS).”
“The primary objective of ASIAS is to provide a national resource for use in discovering common, systemic safety problems that span multiple operators, fleets, and regions of the airspace,” MITRE says in a 2016 document titled “General Aviation ASIAS FAQs.”
According to a presentation by the FAA’s David Hughes to a September 2020 Air Traffic Control Association virtual symposium, ASIAS aggregates safety data “from 185 sources across industry and government, including 46 commercial air carriers and 21 corporate/business operators of jets, turboprops or piston aircraft.” Participants do so voluntarily and the supplied information is de-identified, aggregated and protected before it’s available to users. “The data collection allows safety researchers to compare multiple sources of information for a single safety incident. It also enables users to perform integrated queries across multiple databases,” Hughes added.
The FAA’s bimonthly Safety Briefing magazine chose “data” as the organizing theme of its September/October issue emphasizing that, as Rick Domingo, Flight Standards Service Executive Director, put it, “We all want to see the GA accident and incident rates decrease, and data is key to figuring out where the hazards are, and what mitigations we can take to eliminate them.” The magazine also quotes FAA Administrator Steve Dickson as saying, “We must continue leaning into our role as a data-driven, risk-based decision-making oversight organization that prioritizes safety above all else.”
As part of its approach to increase the flow of general aviation data into ASIAS, which the agency says first began in 2015, it created a framework to allow its collection, which led to the National General Aviation Flight Information Database (NGAFID). According to Safety Briefing editor/contributor James Williams, 118 business jet operators with traditional flight data monitoring programs have joined ASIAS.
The FAA is quick to stress that participation in ASIAS is voluntary and that submitted data “cannot be used for any enforcement purposes,” similar to NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS). General aviation operators can participate in ASIAS by submitting data from on-board avionics or by using a newly developed app on a smartphone or tablet. Benefits include replaying your flights and using the data to identify potential safety risks while enhancing your skills.
To learn more about participating in ASIAS and to download the GAARD (GA Recording Device) data collection app, visit ngafid.org.