Should Helicopters also Monitor Flight Data? Short Answer... YES

by Andrew Robinshaw on 07/29/2020

The one thing you can rely on with commercial helicopter operations is that you will face unique challenges. Helicopters are able to reach and serve where fixed wing aircraft cannot, which often means a far more testing environment. L3Harris support a wide variety of commercial helicopter operators with various missions: offshore oil and gas support, executive travel, medical evacuation, and heli-logging among others. The unique aspects of their operation mean that safety and performance monitoring is, arguably, even more important than it would be for ‘standard’ fixed wing airline operations. 

The core purpose of a safety department is, unsurprisingly, safety. The core purpose of a commercial department, and overall company, is to be commercially successful. Implementing a Helicopter Flight Data Monitoring (HFDM) programme, and managing it effectively, perfectly aligns with the interests of both the safety and commercial departments. The HFDM programme will support the Safety Management System (SMS) and likely lead to monetary benefits down the line. 

With a robust Flight Data Monitoring (FDM) programme in place, operators gain a precise and accurate picture of their operation. Are vortex ring states common, yet going unreported? Are approaches to oil rigs being flown in accordance with the procedures? These are vital questions to know the answers to for supporting an operators SMS. If the problems are unknown, it is nigh on impossible to direct attention and resources to solve them. An effectively run FDM programme can detect emerging safety trends earlier than other forms of safety monitoring. However, it is not a be-all-and-end-all solution. An HFDM programme is at its most effective when run alongside a SMS practicing a just culture, and an effective and trusted reporting programme.  

L3Harris offer an HFDM programme which can be tailored to your requirements. Is special monitoring for ARDA approaches required in order to fly to certain offshore rigs? No problem. Is the aircraft type subject to additional scrutiny on certain mechanical parts? L3Harris can help with trend monitoring and analysis too. 

Customer’s benefit from other factors such as: 

  • Manual flight data analysis and verification 
  • Support of a dedicated analyst 
  • Assistance with investigations 
  • Automatic data backups 
  • A web based HFDM platform 
  • Training on the platform and HFDM in general 

Rotary-wing piloting is very challenging, but very rewarding too. Flight crews will often want to know how they are performing, as well as being curious about how they are monitored. The L3Harris solution allows crews to be granted access to view their own flights and events and watch the animated playback on any internet-enabled device. The system also allows for crews to assess their performance relative to the rest of your operation.  

Is an HFDM programme free? No, but the benefits of an effectively run one dramatically outweigh the outlay. Safety aside, an HFDM programme can also aid the commercial side of your operation.  

An aircraft on the ground is an asset that needs to be realised and if that aircraft is there because of a suspected over-torque that needs an inspection, it could be costing you money. Aircraft-on-ground (AOG) situations are particularly expensive if in a location where you don’t have your own maintenance cover. An upload of the aircraft’s data through the simple to use data transfer unit, and one quick processing of the data later, you will be able to verify if that reported over-torque actually happened, and whether the inspection is needed. L3Harris offers 24-hour AOG data analysis support specifically to help in these types of situations. Through effective safety trend monitoring, a substantial reduction in any kind of aircraft limit exceedances is possible. 

The lost income and possible maintenance cost from an AOG situation can be very expensive, but it can be difficult to predict how many of these may occur in a specific period. One thing that is consistent and regular is the payment of insurance premiums. For a commercial aviation operator, high-cover insurance is essential and can be expensive. A common way to reduce your premiums is to have an HFDM programme; monitoring every flight for trends and exceedances shows an insurance provider you are doing what you can to reduce risk, and thus will become less likely to need to claim on your policy.  

Flight Data Services was originally founded to improve aviation safety and, as part of L3Harris, that is still at the very core of what we do. We are here to help. So, whether you’re flying oil rig workers out into the middle of the sea, flying a VIP, or providing medical evacuation services, L3Harris can offer an HFDM programme to fit your needs.