Software makes flying safer

Airlines could be alerted to potential problems in aircraft before they can jeopardise safety on a future flight, thanks to new computer software developed at Portsmouth University.


Airlines could be alerted to potential problems in aircraft before they can jeopardise safety on a future flight, thanks to a new computer program developed at Portsmouth University.


The program analyses data recorded in an aircraft’s black box after every flight and flags up abnormalities that fall outside the airline’s standard safety parameters.


It highlights even tiny aberrations in the flight data that would not usually be identified, allowing the airline to investigate and take remedial action if necessary before safety is compromised.


Currently, flight-data monitoring is a semi-automated process carried out on a flight-by-flight basis using a set of pre-defined safety criteria that check for known problems.


The new system works by comparing flights against each other and looks for similarities within apparently random sequences of data.


Those that are most similar are grouped together to identify recurring patterns and anomalies during a flight; these would previously have gone undetected.


Dr David Brown, head of the Institute of Industrial Research (IIR) at the university, said: ‘Every flight generates masses of data generated from dozens of instruments and hundreds of information feeds, requiring hours of labour-intensive scrutiny by skilled observers.


‘This intelligent software will do the same job in a fraction of the time and will identify data that would never have been detected by a human being.


‘It literally looks for the needle in the proverbial haystack.’


The industry requires that airlines monitor data from all passenger flights by aircraft weighing more than 27 tonnes.


This includes aircraft ranging from 10-seat corporate jets to commercial jets seating up to 850 passengers, such as the Airbus A380.


The IIR is developing the programme in conjunction with Flight Data Services, a flight-data monitoring company based in Fareham, Hampshire.


The programme is expected to be completed later this year when it will be incorporated into the services it provides to its 50 customer-airlines worldwide.


‘In this industry safety is everything.


‘Flagging up potential safety issues early means that airlines can take any necessary corrective measures and ensure their operations are as safe as they can possibly be,’ said Flight Data Services director, David Jesse.


Dr Brown highlighted the fact that the results could also be used to analyse where aircraft are being operated inefficiently, to reduce fuel consumption and emissions.