How to Enhance Flight Operations Safely

What are the implementation trade-offs of new-technology in the Flight Department? Mario Pierobon highlights the safety aspects.

Mario Pierobon  |  25th January 2018
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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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    Flight Department Safety and Risk

    It’s easy to see the benefits of new technology within the Flight Department, but Mario Pierobon asks what are the implementation trade-offs?

    The aviation industry epitomizes the world of fast technological development. We’ve seen in increasing pace of change over recent years, and there’s plenty more to come, including supersonic travel, all-weather operations, civil tilt-rotor designs and electric aircraft.

    Yet one shouldn’t overlook the more subtle technological advances. While they may not be revolutionizing air transportation in quite the same way as some spectacular developments, they nevertheless provide for incremental improvements in the line environment that increase operational efficiencies within the Flight Department.

    In recent years the Business Aviation industry has embraced Performance Based Navigation (PBN), the Electronic Flight Bag (EFB), Night Vision Imaging Systems (NVIS) and augmented reality devices (in training environments, for example). And that list doesn’t begin to scratch the surface. 

    The question naturally asks how a corporate flight department should approach new technology in training and in the line environment. 

    Technology can be a powerful tool, but it can also be ‘dehumanising’ at times. What are the trade-offs corporate flight department managers should make in order to arrive at the best possible decisions regarding the implementation of technological upgrades? 

    What Are the Benefits?

    The first question those charged with implementation within the Flight Department should ask is how a particular technology can help current operations. The question is not normally difficult to answer, since the benefit is generally the first thing considered when contemplating a technological upgrade.

    An EFB, for example, will reduce the weight of the documentation carried on-board the aircraft, as well as the effort required to ensure the documentation is current. A Night Vision Imaging System (NVIS) will probably be considered only if night operations are a regular requirement, thus creating the need to improve visibility during those operations.

    While it might be straightforward, benefits still need to be clarified and documented because they must be weighed against the downsides of technology, which require more effort to analyse. 

    What Are the Downsides?

    Dealing with the downsides is naturally more difficult. When it comes to technology, people tend to identify how implication could simplify their lives but are slower to recognize how the technology could actually be a complication.

    Every situation is different.  To assess the downsides, following are some important questions: 

    • How much does it cost?
    • How often will it be used?
    • What is the 'social' cost?

    Cost and frequency of use are relatively simple to determine. When considering the EFB, for example, one might want to evaluate the implementation costs – especially in terms of manpower – needed in order to get the applicable regulatory approval.

    Another cost to consider is that every now and then, as hardware solutions keep evolving, the actual EFB tablets will need to be replaced with newer ones. The frequency of use is also important.

    Clearly nobody wants to commit to expensive equipment simply because it is the ‘in-vogue’ technology for the flight deck at the time and is unlikely to be used. 

    It is exactly this ‘social cost’, however, that can be easiest to under-estimate in the analysis.

    Let’s consider the example of Fatigue Risk Management Systems (FRMS). At this time, FRMS’ are developing some critical mass, creating the potential for databases to be built from employees’ health-related information gathered through wearable activity tracking devices. 

    While a wealth of data could be derived from such an initiative within the Flight Department, thought must be given to personal data protection of staff. 

    While this scenario represents an extreme example, even something simple such as establishing a work-group on WhatsApp may have wider implications, and employees could effectively remain on-duty 24-hours a day, feeling compelled to be ‘online’ even during their rest time if adequate guidelines were not established first. 

    Getting the Balance

    It is only when a thorough list of advantages and disadvantages is compiled that good decisions can be made. The best decisions require adequate effort to understand the pros and cons.

    As the technological revolution continues to advance, so does the need for detailed assessment of what could help or hinder your Flight Department operations. 


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