NASA Spinoff

Air Data Report Improves Flight Safety

Aviation is one of the safest means of transportation, but aviation safety professionals always work to make it safer. When flights operate outside of the norm, analysts perk up, as these flights are perhaps also operating outside the realm of safety. These out-of-the- ordinary flights, or atypicalities, are, therefore, the ones that need to be studied, and this is where NASA steps in.

Traditionally, safety analysts compare data to preset parameters to determine the existence of atypical events, but a newly developed NASA program could point analysts to issues which might otherwise have been unforeseen if the analysts had only been looking for these predetermined events. The fundamental difference between NASA’s methodology and traditional exceedance detection originates from the concept of detecting atypicalities without any predefined parameters.

This is the basic concept behind NASA’s Morning Report software created at Ames Research Center. It is not the only software of its kind; rather, it aims to address some of the shortcomings of traditional safety systems. The software aggregates large volumes of flight data and then uses an advanced cluster-based, data-mining technique to find the unexpected or the abnormal, without needing the user to pre-define any events. Simply put, it spots deviations and highlights them for analysis.

The software was designed at Ames under the sponsorship of the Aviation Safety Program in the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, which seeks to make aviation safer by developing advanced tools that find latent safety issues from large sources of flight digital and operational data sources.

Since its inception in 1999, the NASA team has collaborated with air carriers and vendors of flight operational quality assurance (FOQA) software, a widely used tool that seeks to provide airline managers with information that will enable them to better understand risks to flight operation and how to then manage these risks.

The focus on FOQA software led to development of the Morning Report tool. The tool, created with the assistance of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, provides flight analysts with a daily morning report of atypical flights, displayed with the ability to plot those parameters against what is typical for that phase of flight and particular airport.

The Morning Report tool uses multivariate statistical algorithms to analyze large amounts of data from airline flights overnight and then generates an intuitively structured report each morning. It combines these powerful algorithms for analysis with user-intuitive software, allowing users to isolate and understand details underlying any portion of any given flight. It is the only technology of its kind that provides both the global overview as well as the ability to view the smallest details of any flight.