An Overview of Aircraft Recording and its Uses

As part of a series of articles covering the advancement of avionics, Ken Elliott provides an overview of aircraft recording, including cockpit voice and flight data.

Ken Elliott  |  27th July 2023
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Ken Elliott
Ken Elliott

Ken Elliott is a veteran with 52 years of aviation experience, focussed on avionics in General and Business...

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What are the main purposes of aircraft recording


Recording on and off the aircraft essentially addresses three areas, including ‘Health and Performance’; ‘Informing Safety’; and ‘Maintenance’. Following provides an overview of recording as it applies to today’s business aircraft…

Depending upon the category of aircraft, recording equipment may come standard-fit or be retrofitted, either because operating rules change, or the operator seeks improved performance monitoring.

As the aviation environment rapidly evolves, Business Aviation will adjust equipage to meet operational requirements and the need of manufacturers to learn from in-flight data gathering, such as engine monitoring. Additionally, operators may have the option of aircraft health monitoring and maintenance tracking through service provider programs.

Historically, recording has been focused on informing safety advancement. Flight data and voice recorders retained information for later analysis, to determine both the circumstances and potential causes of an incident. Until recently data gathering has been an ‘after the fact’ analogue- based activity, and data extrapolation both labor intensive and subject to error.

In today’s environment it is essential to automate recording and use connectivity to rapidly transfer simultaneous data from multiple sources of an aircraft. This implies a greater degree of memorizing and downloading for each essential aircraft system.

Apart from the traditional use of data (by national authorities) to inform safety, data is used by systems manufacturers and Flight Departments to advance performance.

There are many systems to monitor on a typical business aircraft. To reduce the need for additional onboard recording equipment there is a desire to use connectivity that downloads data in virtual real-time. Some recent flight recorders have that capability, in addition to the onboard retention of flight profile information.

The remainder of this article reviews recording for Health and Performance, Informing Safety and Maintenance (keeping in mind that operating requirements for Flight Departments are still mostly centered on informing safety).

Aircraft Recording for Health and Performance

Modern avionics are designed with Non-Volatile Memory (NVM) that stores data within subsystems. Apart from status messaging to the crew, NVM is useful for fault isolation and analysis.

It is correlated and supplemented with data recovered from crash-resistant recorders. Assuming an incident has not damaged the regular onboard systems they can be removed, and information may be retrieved for evaluation.

More usually, NVM serves the purpose of monitoring specific systems for health and performance. Different aircraft manage health monitoring in different ways but some version of a maintenance diagnostic computing system collects and stores relevant data for later use.

Sourced data originates from avionics, engines and airframe equipment. This memorized information is useful to Flight Departments and others after a trip when it is downloaded in the hangar.

Many cockpits include discretely mounted ports for diagnostics, where a computer or USB device can be inserted to facilitate downloads. This enables an early determination of the cause of a problem, and the ability to position necessary equipment for an expedited repair.

This truly comes into its own on multileg international trips. On these occasions, the Flight Department can ship loaner or exchange components directly to an approved foreign repair facility, having diagnosed the fault via satellite.

There are long-established flight monitoring programs in place for commercial operations. Operational Flight Data Monitoring (OFDM) in Europe, and Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA) in the US, are methods of safety management. Versions of safety management that, in part, rely on the recording of data have also migrated to Business Aviation.

The cautious development of Wireless Avionics Intra Communications (WAIC) for aviation is underway. Here, low power, short range micro-transmission devices are associated with all primary and secondary systems of an aircraft. Control and response data is transferred not by wires but wirelessly.

The preferred method of activity between these systems is via a secure network using a part of the FCC Aeronautical Radio Navigation frequency band. Although not designed to transfer information off the aircraft, because of its wireless nature WAIC technology lends itself to air-to-ground and satellite connectivity.

Using Quick Access Recorders (QAR), modern aircraft also access, record and permit downloading of in-flight performance data for feedback to systems manufacturers.

Several business aircraft producers have teamed with engine providers to develop and issue Service Bulletins (SBs) to add small QARs to aircraft.

Continue reading this overview of aircraft recording and its uses, including for ‘Informing Safety’ and ‘Maintenance’ in the AvBuyer July Digital Edition…

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