Signs of intelligence in cockpit

Artificial intelligence could soon be alerting airlines to potential problems before they jeopardise in-flight safety.


The capability is being developed at the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Industrial Research (IIR) where experts use artificial intelligence techniques for industrial applications.

The programme they’ve been working on analyses data recorded in an aircraft’s black box after every flight and flags up abnormalities which fall outside the airline’s standard safety parameters. 

It highlights even tiny aberrations in the flight data which would usually go undetected, allowing an airline to investigate and take remedial action if necessary before safety is compromised.

Flight data monitoring is usually a semi-automated process carried out on a flight by flight basis using a set of pre-defined safety criteria which 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 which are most similar are grouped together to identify recurring patterns and anomalies during a flight. 

The IIR’s Dr David Brown, says: “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.”

Airlines are required to monitor data from all passenger flights over 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 Hampshire-based flight data monitoring company Flight Data Services in the UK. The programme is expected to be completed later this year when it will be incorporated into the services it provides to its own customer airlines.

“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,” says Flight Data Services’s David Jesse.

The programme is being developed in response to the industry’s need for a more comprehensive and accurate system of flight data monitoring although Dr Brown points out that the results could be used to analyse inefficient operations and reduce fuel consumption and emissions.


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