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In a little over one year, helicopter air ambulance operators must have their aircraft equipped with flight data monitoring (FDM) equipment, in addition to helicopter terrain and warning system (HTAWS) technology and radar altimeters.
This fast-approaching Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mandate is bringing FDM into a new spotlight.
FDM has long been in the spotlight for Truth Data, which brings a new level of safety and efficiency to helicopter operators by providing flight operational quality assurance (FOQA) and FDM services.
The company draws on decades of aviation experience, both military and civilian, in flight data analytics to support operators in all market segments worldwide. Members of Truth Data’s team helped write and run the U.S. Navy’s Military Flight Operations Quality Assurance (MFOQA) program. In addition to industry-leading capabilities in terms of flight data analysis, that experience means tailored support to customers, regardless of the operator’s fleet size or geographic location.
“Most air medical operators right now are looking at the helicopter air ambulance mandate which is coming down in April 2018 so that has given them an external pressure to look at installing flight data monitoring equipment,” said Pete Henrikson, president of Truth Data.
For many, FDM will be something new.
“I think previously people thought of data analysis as the need to have a staff of full-time employees and an expensive software suite,” said Henrikson. “It used to be that the only ones to benefit would be your large fixed-wing operators like American and Delta but that’s not the case anymore. With recent technological developments combined with a lot of the experience that has gone on in the fixed-wing side as well as on the military side, the safety benefits from data monitoring and data analysis are available to the helicopter market now.”
Here’s how it works. Data comes off the flight data recorder–parameters like basic aircraft sensors, engine data, and flight controls.
“We can even integrate GoPro video,” said Matt Hilton, Truth Data’s director of technology. “Basically any data source that comes into us we can provide some useful insight and analysis for it.”
Generally, it is an “after action” kind of report.
“You fly, you land, you download the data, and we take a look at it based upon different criteria that we’ve set based on both our experience and the customer’s request,” said Henrikson. “And, importantly, we are hardware agnostic. So if you buy a box from one company for one aircraft and then your company acquires another aircraft with another recording unit we can still provide analysis on both; whereas traditionally every box needs its own analysis software.”
Operators generally like to use the data analysis for operations, training and safety: basically, how the pilots are flying the aircraft and how well the aircraft is holding up. But it’s not used to hammer people, emphasizes Hilton.
“There is sometimes a feeling out there that someone is watching. We are not ‘Big Brother,’ we are not out to find fault in what you are doing. We are trying to prevent mishaps from occurring. So if we start seeing trends in the data, that’s when we will flag it for the operator to review.”
That will ease some operators’ concerns about the approaching FAA mandate who are struggling to know where to even begin to be compliant. To help out, “we are teaching a class at Heli-Expo where we bring in the FAA, manufacturers, program operators, insurance brokers–as many people into the room who are affected by this rule,” said Henrikson. “Because a small operator is focused on daily operations and keeping the helicopter up and running, for example.”
And Truth Data’s services can be beneficial for large operators, too. For example, Honeywell was selected by Air Methods as its flight data acquisition unit, who in turn selected Truth Data for FOQA and FDM.
Truth Data has a close working relationship with Honeywell. “When we first started working with Honeywell several months ago they saw a definite interest in using our service,” said Henrikson. “I would guess they see the benefit of being able to offer services to clients that have different suites of recording units.”
He said Air Methods has over 400 aircraft “but we want to also help the small operators, 80 percent of whom have five or less. We would like to reach out to all of them to see how we could help answer questions on the rule.”
Another way to help out all of them is in Truth Data’s strategy kit: helping operators establish FOQA programs. Putting operators’ minds at ease is FAA Part 193, said Henrikson.
“The certificate holder and the pilot specifically get protection from things like freedom of information requests and so on,” he said. “It is the way the FAA came up with creating a just safety culture in their regulations. So there is no attribution if you share safety information.”
He said most operators don’t have one and are unfamiliar with its benefits.
Henrikson would like to change that. “The more safety information you share helps the industry as a whole,” he said, “and businesses can benefit by improving their safety margins while benchmarking against the rest of the industry.
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