An Introduction to Flight Data Recorders (Part 2)

Why should owners of legacy business jets and turboprops upgrade their flight data recorders, and what are the best retrofit solutions available? Mario Pierobon asks the industry's experts...

Mario Pierobon  |  26th December 2019
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    Mario Pierobon
    Mario Pierobon

    Mario Pierobon holds a Master’s Degree in Air Transportation Management from City University London,...

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    Over the Shoulder Pilot in Private Jet Cockpit

    Following last month’s overview, Mario Pierobon discusses the most effective FDR retrofit/upgrades with industry experts. Why should you upgrade? And what is the benefit of Flight Data Monitoring, anyway?
    Having a Flight Data Recorder (FDR) installed on your business aircraft is not a given if the aircraft is of an older vintage. Where an FDR does exist, it may be more primitive than what can be installed.
    The reality is that retrofitting can be expensive and, as a result, previous owners are unlikely to have installed a more modern FDR unless mandated to do so by their respective authorities. So why should you consider upgrading? As we explored last time, there’s lots that FDRs can do to enhance the safety of a Business Aviation operation.
    “As the avionics and data on board the aircraft has grown in sophistication and data collection, so has the capacity of the FDRs,” notes Darshan Gandhi, business development manager, L3 Harris, who highlights that they’ve come a long way from merely answering ‘what happened,’ in an accident.
    “The FDRs collect thousands of data points that can be used to improve flight operations and pilot training.” And in doing so, they can help prevent accidents from occurring throughout the industry.
    Moreover, regulators are updating the minimum recording standards from 2 hours of cockpit voice recording to a minimum of 25 hours. “They are also increasing the number of parameters that are available from the data acquisition devices,” Gandhi adds.
    “These new regulations will require technology upgrades to current designs. Obsolescence may also drive updates since older parts may no longer be able in the market for repairs or replacements.”
    Finding the Best FDR Upgrade Path
    For those needing to upgrade, or seeking the benefit of a more modern FDR aboard an older aircraft, what is the best route to go? “Today, a 25-hour FDR meeting the latest TSO is advisable to install if done as a retrofit option,” suggests Robert Randall, director, Strategic Business Development, Universal Avionics.
    “The installation certification paperwork package will dictate which recorder and what parameters are approved, based on the current regulations and aircraft type.”
    There are some specific considerations to make, and processes to implement for retrofitting FDRs in older aircraft, however.
    “Some form of flight data acquisition is required for the FDR to receive flight data for recording,” notes Mark Shoemaker, senior director, Leasing Companies & Business Aviation, Teledyne.
    “Some newer business aircraft have integrated flight data acquisition systems that can send data to the FDR.
    “If an integrated flight data acquisition system is not on the aircraft, then a stand-alone flight data acquisition unit (FDAU) will need to be installed to acquire, process and transmit data to the FDR for recording.
    “The integrated or stand-alone system may have a built-in quick access recorder (QAR) that records the same data as the FDR, and in some cases more, which can be more easily accessed for flight data analysis or monitoring,” he adds.
    On older aircraft, a platform-specific STC would need to be obtained to replace older recorders with new ones. “This is also true when the design is updated because of obsolescence,” Gandhi explains. “The ‘hull value’ of the aircraft also drives the amount of the money that the owner is willing to spend on updates.”
    Understanding Flight Data Monitoring
    The activity that processes flight data and provides insights as to what is happening in flight operations is flight data monitoring (FDM). Though it’s not always required by law, business aircraft operators have several reasons to conduct FDM, which is more commonly known in the United States as Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA).
    “Enhanced safety monitoring and improvement is the first and foremost reason,” Gandhi says. “By using objective flight data, operators can pinpoint areas of interest and target those areas for safety campaigns.
    “Without relying solely on reported flight safety issues, flight data monitoring can shed light on a wider range of issues, some of which may not be easily detectable by flight crews (i.e. latent risks).”
    “Flight data monitoring is useful to show things like hard landings, over-use of engines, and braking hard,” elaborates Chris Christianson, avionics technical representative, Duncan Aviation. “For these kinds of events, recording parameters may come in useful.”
    According to Shoemaker, FDM should be implemented under all circumstances to improve operational safety. “FDM is being utilized in many different ways to improve operations and maintenance efficiency and to improve dispatch reliability, optimising fuel loads, as well as improving dispatch reliability,” he says.
    “Flight data can be used for training to educate pilotson unfamiliar airport take-off and landing procedures,” he adds. “Once an operator has started FDM, the operational benefits are endless. Teledyne Controls has FDAUs with integrated QARs for most business aircraft that can be installed for FDM without the requirement or need to install an FDR.”
    Financial Incentives & the Greater Good of FDM
    Sharing de-identified data with platforms such as the FAA’s Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing System (ASIAS) improves safety awareness in the entire industry through benchmarking and aggregate trend analysis, notes Gandhi.
    “Aside from safety enhancement, there is often a financial incentive too.
    “Several aircraft insurance providers apply discounts to operators with an active FOQA program, and prominent audit companies are beginning to look toward FDM/FOQA as a stage in the audit process.
    “In summary, key benefits of FDM/FOQA include the identification of fuel savings strategies, high fidelity usage monitoring, improved fleet management, reduced maintenance and fault detection.”
    Meanwhile, the industry is experiencing ongoing development and enhancements in flight data recording capabilities. “The value of the recorded data is being analysed, and businesses are investigating many areas that this data can be used to enhance safety and improve maintenance schedules which saves the owner/operator money,” Randall notes.
    “Operators can benefit tremendously with a properly equipped aircraft which data can be used to predict or respond to unscheduled events,” he adds.
    “The available data is becoming more and more accessible through many subscription services.” As the infrastructure continues to improve at a fast pace, FDM will only become more common – and, as demonstrated, the value of the information will help save operating costs and continues to enhance safety. With FDM, everyone can be a winner…

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