The US Federal Aviation Administration says approval is "imminent" for a new internal safety office within the agency that will scour public and private aviation safety databases for clues that could help avert otherwise unforeseen incidents and accidents.
Called the Office of Analytical Services, the new organisation will be headed by Jay Pardee, former manager of the FAA's engine and propeller certification directorate and, since 2005, a senior adviser specialising in aviation safety analysis. It will comprise a small "nimble" full-time staff, says Pardee.
The new organisation formalises what had previously been an ad hoc group of about 12 FAA employees called upon to on a part-time basis to analyse information from a wide range of de-identified reports, including airline Flight Operational Quality Assurance (FOQA) and Aviation Safety Action Partnership (ASAP) databases.
By having the two sources of information, analysts with the aid of computer programs that automatically review enormous amounts of data generated on a daily basis, will in theory be able to alert operators or the FAA to a potential incident by linking otherwise disparate happenings.
Close to 20 airlines have FOQA programmes and more than 50 airlines have FAA-approved ASAP programmes for pilots. A smaller number have separate ASAP programmes for mechanics, flight attendants and dispatchers.
The FAA plans to continue working with NASA researchers at the Ames Research Centre to develop the "vulnerability and discovery tools" that will sift through FOQA, ASAP and other public and private databases to highlight abnormal situations related to aircraft performance, operational procedures or location.
Pardee says the key to success will be coming up with processes to "tease out from the data the undesirable aircraft states", not just for airlines, but eventually for air taxis and general aviation as well.
Pardee says a full package of automated routines should be available from NASA within three years.
Data-mining will be a key element in the agency's goal of halving the current 9.1 fatalities per 100 million "persons on board", a new metric the FAA put in place earlier this year, to 4.6 by 2025.
Pardee says the previous measure -- fatalities per 100,000 departures for scheduled air carrier and charter operations - did not adequately express to the public the actual risk in taking a commercial flight.