But USA fears litigation and prefers voluntary code
Pilots of all European large commercial aircraft will have their flight operations compulsorily monitored and recorded by the end of this year, says the European Joint Aviation Authorities. The US Federal Aviation Administration has already decided to adopt a voluntary approach to flight data monitoring (FDM).
The move will put pressure on authorities in Africa, Asia and South America - where accident rates are higher than in Europe and the USA - to speed up FDM implementation.
The European FDM regulations are expected to go forward for JAA committee adoption in June, enabling Europe to meet the International Civil Aviation Organisation's 1 January 2005 FDM implementation target date.
Final proposals for compulsory FDM on aircraft weighing more than 27,000kg (59,500lb) have been adopted by the JAA operations sectorial team, says its leader Georges Rebender. The basic requirement for compliance is a suitable electronic flight data recorder (EFDR) or quick-access recorder that can store and quickly download data on the flight profile, trajectory, use of flight controls and the engines. Many major European carriers already carry out this once-controversial practice. If pilots are found commonly to carry out procedures that are divergent from the ideal by more than a certain amount, training can address the specific problems instead of being generic only.
The FAA is taking a voluntary approach on FDM at this stage, on the grounds that most affected US carriers are choosing to adopt FDM - which they call flight operations quality assurance (FOQA) - but the acceptable means of compliance will not be defined by the FAA in time for the ICAO deadline. The agency says: "The original and current intent of the FOQA programme is for the FAA to use aggregate data supplied voluntarily by airlines that routinely collect data from flight data recorders. The most challenging issue is the variety of databases used by US airlines."
The issue of protecting the FDM data from gratuitous litigation in a country such as the USA, which has a Freedom of Information Act, has been more intractable.
JAA regulation director Yves Morier says the European consultation period has ended, and all that is required before FDM adoption into JAR Ops regulations in June is legal fine-tuning. This has to ensure that the intended directions on non-punitive use of the information are watertight, and the same applies to protecting the data from gratuitous litigation.
DAVID LEARMOUNT / BARCELONA
Source: Flight International