The Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA) refers to a comprehensive safety program designed to address safety in the aviation industry by allowing pilots and commercial airlines to share aggregate flight data with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) continuously. The FOQA aims at identifying and reducing safety risks through partnerships between airlines, pilots, and FAA.
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FOQA also aims at ensuring that operators observe FAA regulations concerning duty/rest periods of the cabin crew to minimize fatigue-related accidents/incidents.
Aviation safety is a major concern in the aviation industry. Accidents result in the loss of human lives and hamper consumer confidence, which, from a commercial perspective, affects the growth of the aviation industry. Normally, commercial airlines have internal safety management systems that analyze flight data to establish the causes of accidents or incidents. In FOQA, specific flight data undergoes preliminary analysis by flight data analysts to identify if pilots infringe flight guidelines (Holtom, 2000, p. 11). Subsequently, analysts review the data before consulting the pilot flying the aircraft. Therefore, the FOQA program is essential in noting any unsafe aviation practices to avoid future accidents.
In the aviation industry, the majority of accidents arise from a combination of organizational or technical failures. Therefore, analysts should investigate safety incidences using flight data and recommend effective measures to prevent future accidents/incidents. FOQA facilitates the pooling of flight data from many airlines to identify trends in the aviation industry and implement measures to correct such trends and avoid accidents (FAA, 2004, p.220). Most importantly, under the FOQA program, flight data analysts can collect and analyze flight data during normal operations through a Flight Data Monitoring program. This helps in the early identification of unsafe trends before an incident/accident occurs.
Essentially, FOQA aims at recognizing unsafe practices that if not corrected would contribute to an accident. Additionally, FOQA involves a follow-up and monitoring program to assess impending unsafe flight conditions regularly to promote aviation safety. It focuses on aviation trends as opposed to specific flights and is a continuous monitoring process. Most importantly, FOQA analysis does not aim at faulting or punishing the crew or airline companies for organizational or systemic failures. FOQA is limited to commercial flight operations and not military flight operations. The flight data for a specific flight operation is captured, processed, and recorded aboard the aircraft. This data is then analyzed using specific software tools to identify trends and violations of the FAA guidelines.
The data is also important in the reconstruction of the flight path for the crew during safety incidences. The processed data is also essential in the identification of potential events that might result in an error during flights (Ramana, 2001, p.143). Usually, a combination of multiple events contributes to unsafe flight operations. These events or actions can be identified from the processed data. Additionally, from the analyzed data, precursors that indicate unsafe flight conditions can be identified. However, FOQA programs have limitations. Pilots may be reluctant to provide flight data to FOQA for fear of punishment. In addition, the transmission of flight data during the monitoring process may not be secure hence putting the airlines at risk.
In conclusion, the FOQA program ensures aviation safety through the acquisition of aggregate flight data and specialized analysis to identify unsafe aviation trends early. Various techniques are used in the data acquisition, data analysis, and transmission to a flight for flight path reconstruction. Thus, FOQA focuses on identifying unsafe trends and ways of correcting them to avoid accidents/incidences and promote aviation safety.
FAA. (2006). The agency’s Air Transportation Operations Inspector’s Handbook. Flight Standards Information Management System. (FSIMS).
Holtom, M. (2000). Properly managed FOQA Programme Represents an Important Safety Tool for Airlines. ICAO Journal, 5, 11-14.
Ramana, M. (2001). Flight Operational Quality Assurance through Exploitation of Flight Data Recorders. QuEST, 143.