EASA’s Data4Safety partnership programme provides European-wide aviation data exchange and analysis to improve safety

EASA, along with key European aviation stakeholders, is running a very innovative safety programme in Europe named Data4Safety. It makes use of the most advanced technologies, such as Big Data & Data Mining, to collect, aggregate and analyse safety data in one platform. This allows to identify and assess systemic safety risks in Europe’s aviation. Erick Ferrandez reports.

What is the Data4Safety programme?

Data4Safety (also known as D4S) is a data collection and analysis programme that will ensure the highest common level of safety and environmental protection for the European aviation system.

The programme aims at collecting and gathering all data that may support the management of safety risks at European level. This includes safety reports (or occurrences), flight data (i.e. data generated by the aircraft via the Flight Data Recorders), surveillance data (air traffic data), weather data – but those are only a few from a much longer list.

As for the analysis, the programme’s ultimate goal is to help to “know where to look” and to “see it coming”. In other words, it will support the Performance-based Environment and set up a more predictive system.

More specifically, the programme will allow to better know where the risks are (safety risk identification), determine the nature of these risks (risk assessment) and verify if the safety actions are delivering the needed level of safety (performance measurement). It aims to develop the capability to discover vulnerabilities in the system across terabytes of data.

A voluntary partnership for aviation safety

Highly innovative and ambitious, this programme is not an initiative that EASA contemplates doing alone. As of day one, the idea is to implement an EU-wide partnership with EASA’s safety partners.

First and foremost, aviation organisations will be fully members of the programme. They are the usual safety partners from the European Aviation Community, namely Airlines, Manufacturers, Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSP), National Aviation Authorities (NAA), Pilots, Airports, Maintenance Organisations, etc. Such a programme is meant to be run with them as they have both the safety data and – as important, the required expertise to analyse and properly interpret the outputs. Ultimately, we all share the same objectives of enhancing safety.

EASA’s safety partners are meant to be programme members and will be part of the D4S governance. As data owners, they need a system of checks and balances to ensure that their data will be used in an appropriate manner.

The Agency has also associate partners from universities and research centres that have developed expertise and savoir-faire on how to use the Big Data and other leading-edge IT technologies/data science methodologies (such as text mining/natural language processing) when applied to aviation data. There is a need to include a considerable amount of research efforts in the programme, but we also rely as much as possible on what has already been done and is available.

Taking data collection and analysis to another level

Collecting and analysing data is not new in aviation. A number of regulations oblige the different organisations involved in aviation safety to report, collect, analyse safety data such as occurrences or flight data, and act on it. However, each organisation is collecting only a sample of the overall data set available. If you collect a part of the data you will only get a part of the picture.

The main innovation with D4S is that, for the first time in Europe, a programme has the ambition to provide the full and complete picture. D4S aims to organise the collection of all the safety data that is currently scattered and fragmented all over the different organisations in Europe. The data will then be integrated into a Big Data platform. Thanks to powerful algorithms and adapted coordination of the experts’ work, D4S will permit to efficiently process the data and extract high added-value knowledge nuggets.

However, just amassing data could be quite a futile exercise if you are not able to analyse it. Therefore, another novelty is the creation of an analysis platform that will gather aviation experts from all domains and organisations in a way we have never seen before in Europe. The aviation experts will be supported by Data Scientists who analyse and interpret complex digital data and develop the famous algorithms.

D4S organisation in practice

EASA launched the initial phase called the “Proof of Concept” (PoC) in 2017. The objective is to build a prototype with a limited number of partners and a limited scope (limited set of analytics) to test and demonstrate technical and organisational solutions to successfully run such a programme before launching the operational phase planned for late 2020.

The programme Founding Members agreed on a first set of Use Cases (the “outputs”) to be implemented during the PoC: a set of Metrics (Safety Performance Indicators) computed based on all aggregated data available i.e. at systemic level, blind-benchmarking visualisations that will provide organisations with the capacity to assess their level of safety performance compared to peer-organisations and two Directed Studies (deep dive “360°” analysis) focusing (1) on the management of Go-Around manoeuvres and (2) on Adverse Weather phenomena and their impacts on the safety of Air Operations.

When the next communities of aviation stakeholders will be on-boarded on the programme as it will progressively transition to its operational phase, new potential Use Cases will be discussed and collaboratively selected and specified with them. In particular, for airports, these Use Cases will focus on safety and environmental matters linked to the air operations in departing and arrival areas.

Measures of success

There are three elements that will be closely monitored and will be good measures of this programme’s success.

First, our ability to build trust. If the safety partners (and data owners) do not trust that their data are in good hands with D4S – not only secured technically, contractually and legally – but also that the programme will use them for the sole purpose of safety, they will simply not share them. Delivering trust is therefore a priority. On this point, the fact that the founding members have signed the programme charter is already a milestone achievement (i).

Second, the programme will have to live up to the expectations of technical delivery. No one will care if we are capable to amass terabytes of data on an IT platform. The measure of success will be assessed by our ability to develop the algorithms that will infer intelligence and knowledge out of the data. Ultimately, this means our ability to discover the vulnerabilities of the aviation system through this programme.

Last but not least, this programme must be fully integrated into the European safety system. Indeed, Data4Safety is an enabler, not an objective in itself. The outputs (again, “know where to look” and “see it coming”) will be useless if they do not support the processes to decide and implement the relevant safety actions. For instance, D4S must become the main feeder for the EPAS (European Plan for Aviation Safety). Beyond Europe, D4S must also be connected to similar international initiatives. The cooperation with the US counterpart programme (ASIAS) has already been formally established, and we are also in discussion with IATA and others.

Erick Ferrandez is Head of Safety Intelligence and Performance Department & Data4Safety Programme Manager at EASA.

(i) NOTE: On the 31st of March 2017, key actors from the aviation sector (airlines, aircraft manufacturers, national aviation authorities and pilot unions) agreed to join in a cooperative partnership the Data4Safety programme initiated by EASA. Participants include: easyJet, British Airways, Iberia, Deutsche Lufthansa, Ryanair, Airbus, the Boeing Company, the European Cockpit Association (ECA), the Spanish Aviation Safety and Security Agency (AESA), Direction de la Sécurité de l’Aviation Civile (DSAC France), the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority (UK CAA) and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

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