Ian Sheppard/LONDON

Sandia National Laboratories is helping the US Federal Aviation Administration to devise a new approach to airline safety which the FAA hopes will assist its 3,500 inspectors in tracking safety trends and predicting airline operating deficiencies.

Calling on its knowledge from decades of systems engineering work related to nuclear power station safety, Sandia has helped design the Air Transportation Oversight System (ATOS), which will be tested with 10 major US carriers from October.

Under close scrutiny from FAA administrator Jane Garvey, the FAA's flight standards office intends to phase the scheme in over three years to meet its "Safer Skies" goal, set in the wake of last year's Gore Commission report, which called for an 80% reduction in accidents within 10 years. It wants all US carriers to be introduced into ATOS by October 1999.

ATOS will relieve inspectors of the need to rely purely on their own expertise and judgement, and will offer them a standard systematic route to assess safety. The idea is for each carrier to have its own plan tailored by the FAA, which will assign a Certificate Management Team to each.

Continuous improvement teams will also monitor safety aspects of the organisation in seven areas: flight operations, training, manuals, aircraft configuration control, route structures, aircrew duty and technical administration.

The FAA says that it has no intention at the moment to extend an ATOS-type requirement to foreign carriers, the home countries of which are rated under its International Aviation Safety Assessment scheme.

Albuquerque-based Sandia says ATOS supplements its work with the FAA on ageing aircraft in general. This includes development of a now-certificated composite doubler repair for the Lockheed Tristar, pioneered with Delta Air Lines.

Sandia says that this "successful" work has now been extended to a range of repair applications for all aircraft types.

Project engineer Dennis Roach says Sandia is now working with Boeing and FedEx to "streamline the process" into a generic repair for niche applications such as "dents, corrosion grind-out areas and skin fatigue cracks".

A pilot project on FedEx McDonnell Douglas DC-10s is planned for early 1999, according to Roach, which will include a cost-benefit analysis not possible with the previous "single data point" Tristar study.

Roach believes the doubler's selling point will be as the first permanent repair applicable overnight, in 4-8h, which avoids having to remove the aircraft from airline service.

Sandia is also heading a project involving British Aerospace Airbus of Bristol, UK, to develop a "worldwide industry approach to composite inspections". This will define the key parameters and a "series of agreed reference standards", says Roach.

Source: Flight International