Eclipse Aviation plans to introduce the industry's first original equipment manufacturer-sponsored aviation safety action programme (ASAP) by early February. It will eventually give participating Eclipse 500 owners and operators immunity for infracting US Federal Aviation Administration rules.

The programme, which allows pilots to voluntarily report safety-related incidents to the FAA through a web portal, follows Eclipse's launch in early November of a Flight Operational Quality Assurance (FOQA) programme, also a first for an OEM.

FOQA is performance and aircraft-state data that is de-identified and aggregated to discover systematic problems. When combined with ASAP data, analysts ideally can determine not only what happened, from the FOQA data, but why it happened, from the ASAP information.

Chris Solan, manager for flight safety with Eclipse, says the company will take a phased approach to implementing ASAP, initially using its own pilots as part of a "beta" test in late January or early February 2008. Once the programme is opened for all owners, Solan says customers will have to "opt in" and will have to agree to implement "remedial" actions in return for FAA protection from sanctions.

With FOQA, stored data is downloaded by either the pilot or a mechanic from a NavAero-built diagnostic storage unit on each aircraft, accessed via a USB port on the right armrest of the co-pilot's seat. Once loaded into Eclipse's database, the FOQA software searches the fleet-wide data to "parameterise certain abnormal events" compared with operational limits in the aircraft manual, says Solan.

Trends that emerge will be assessed by a "board within Eclipse made up of experts from various functional areas", he says. Corrective actions could include a communiqué to pilots, modifications to the flight manual or Eclipse's training regime, for example.

Solan says that although data "began to flow" on the day the first aircraft was delivered, the company so far has used the information in a reactive mode.

He says that by January 2008, Eclipse will begin using the data proactively, "looking at what's really going on out there based on event constraints".

Vern Raburn, Eclipse Aviation chief executive, says programmes like FOQA and ASAP, which are common in the airline industry, will provide a feedback loop from the pilots to the OEMs and the FAA, creating an information flow that will increase safety. "Part 91 operations, in particular Part 23 [airworthiness standards for normal, utility, acrobatic and commuter category aircraft], have historically been open-loop systems," says Raburn. "This is our attempt to change that."

Source: Flight International