Aircraft Flight Data Monitoring as part of an Effective Safety Management System

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Sofema Online (SOL) considers the role of Flight Data Monitoring (FDM) within the context of the organisations Safety Management System.


The FDM programme is an essential component of the Safety Management System (SMS) both in terms of hazard identification as well as safety performance monitoring and measurement.

The FDM / SMS Interface should ensure that operational safety risks are refined and fully documented to ensure that the programming of FDM algorithms is based on commonly understood needs.

Primary objectives include:

» Identifying and prioritizing issues to be monitored through FDM
» Safety Performance Monitoring and Hazard Identification

Trends, as well as events, may be examined to find instances of non-operational issues for example:

» Inadequate training (e.g. wrong take-off technique or response to TCAS RA)
» or culture (e.g. non-adherence to stabilized approach criteria)

Setting Framework Criteria

To define a set of FDM algorithms related to a given operational safety risk, the FDM specialist consider the following:

» Use a common taxonomy to describe the occurrence category and flight phase.
» The description of each operational safety risk should include, as a minimum:

o The flight phase(s) where the hazard may occur or is assumed to occur;
o The concerned inbound/outbound route, airport, and runways;
o Environmental context (e.g. time of day/night, day of the week, season, etc.);
o The affected aircraft model(s) and, if applicable, the concerned airfield; and
o Any additional factor that increases the probability of occurrence of this risk.

Note Flight Data Recording Systems have a limited capability to react with information external to the aircraft such as

» Other traffic,
» ATC communications,
» Weather (e.g. visibility, light conditions),
» Human factors (e.g. crew resource management, fatigue), or
» Damage to the aircraft structure.

Considering FDM Safety Risk

Safety risk can be categorized as operational or non-operational.

» Operational safety risks are risks associated to hazards that occur when the aircraft is operated and that may act as a precursor to an incident or accident (e.g. icing conditions, bird strike, proximity with terrain, etc.).
» Non-operational safety risks are related to other kinds of factors, such as organisational, related to training, company safety culture, etc., and are mostly considered contributing factors.

Note - In practice, the FDM specialist will mostly focus on operational safety risks.

The Role of the Safety Risk Register in Support of Flight Data Monitoring 

It is generally considered best practice not to limit the scope of work of the FDM in relation to the simple recording of FDM events within the Risk Register. However, the scope of the FDM programme should be consistent with the risk register.

FDM is a Tool to Monitor & Identify New Hazards

FDM should be used to monitor known safety risks and to identify new hazards and other potential safety threats.

Following the examination of trend information and the raising of awareness concerning potential issues and findings, it is essential that the FDM specialists share the information with the safety manager.

» This will enable an operational context to be considered together with additional information for example occurrence reports, surveys, weather & ADS-B data, etc.

Potential exposures can also be understood from a consideration of multiple sources including those identified by other means

» Incident information from an internal crew report or
» External safety publications
» Workload, traffic situation, frequency congestion

Next Steps - Flight Data Monitoring Further Guidance

Sofema Aviation Services offers classroom training in Flight Data Monitoring techniques & Sofema Online offers an intensive online course covering all the fundamentals of an effective Flight Data Monitoring System.

For additional details, please visit our websites or email

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