The Flying Engineer explores regulations covering flight recorders, and how even in the absence of the mandate for such devices in single engine and piston aircraft, a commonly found avionics suite allows the operator to tackle flight safety: proactively.
The Indian Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), in its civil aviation regulations (CAR) Section 2 Series “I” Part V Issue II, dated 23rd January 2013, covers flight data recorders (FDR), and describes a FDR as “Any type of recorder installed in the aircraft for the purpose of complementing accident/incident investigation.”
The same regulation does not talk about FDR for single engine airplanes. The closest it comes to is a recommendation, for commercial transport, and general aviation, “that all turbine-engined aeroplanes of a maximum certificated take-off mass of 5700kg or less for which the individual certificate of airworthiness is first issued on or after 1 January 2016 should be equipped with: a) a Type II FDR; or b) a class C AIR capable of recording flight path and speed parameters displayed to the pilot(s);or c) an ADRS capable of recording the essential parameters”
A recommendation is not enforceable, and single engine pistons are not covered.
Interestingly, CAR Section 3 (Air Transport) Series C Part III Issue II, dated 1st June 2010, talks of the minimum requirement for the grant of a Non-Scheduled Operator Permit (NSOP). The CAR covers single engine turbine, and single engine piston aircraft as well. The regulation also describes the need to demonstrate a “Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA) and CVR/FDR monitoring system.”
Flight Data Monitoring (FDM) is defined as “the pro-active use of recorded flight data from routine operations to improve aviation safety.” FDM is important, as a review of recorded flight can identify deviations and exceedances, which can be used for corrective training. It is an effective method where an incident is analyzed, and brought to the notice of flight & maintenance crew before it amplifies to an accident.
The surprise here is the DGCA’s realization of the importance of FDM & FOQA in aviation, irrespective of the airplane type, but it’s very regulations do not cover FDRs in single engine airplanes.
Infact, piston engine, whether multi or single engine, are not covered: “All multi-engined turbine powered aeroplanes of a maximum certificated takeoff mass of 5700kg or less for which the individual certificate of airworthiness is first issued on or after 1 January 1989, shall be equipped with a Type II FDR by 31.12.2013.”
Either DGCA assumes that pistons have no future, or that operators, both commercial and general aviation, fly only turbines.
The benefits of FDM
FDM is beneficial for everybody, right from the student pilot to the airline pilot. In training, FDM is necessary to immediately identify exceedances and deviations, bringing it to the notice of the concerned. For example, a student pilot who pulled a high G maneuver may have stressed an airframe, and if before scheduled inspections, the airframe is stressed multiple times, a failure could result. Similarly, a private pilot with 50-60 hrs may make mistakes, which may go unnoticed unless an expert, or a sufficiently experienced person goes through the flight data recordings to understand and point out what went wrong, and how it may be avoided. These are small steps toward enhanced safety for all.
Flight Data Recording without a FDR
Garmin’s G1000 has been adopted by many airframe manufacturers, making it a standard fit on their aircraft. Cessna for one, offers the G1000 from the 172R to its turbine single engines, including the Grand Caravan.
The Garmin G1000 features flight data logging (FDL), which is not a FDR, but may be used for the same purpose: FDM & FOQA.
On the 172, the G1000 for Cessna: NAV III, logs 64 parameters, at a 1 second interval. These parameters cover (and exceed) the requirements laid down in the regulations for an Aircraft Data Recording System (ADRS), but fall short on only 2 aspects: the recording interval (some data needs to be recorded at 250ms intervals, but is logged in the G1000 in 1 second intervals), and the control surface position (primary and secondary flight control positions are not recorded).
States the Garmin Manual, “The Flight Data Logging feature will automatically store critical flight and engine data on an SD data card inserted into the top card slot of the MFD. Approximately 4,000 flight hours can be recorded on the card.”
In addition, Garmin provides a free, simple to use software that in a few clicks converts the recorded flle to a Google Earth path, which can be viewed in 3D to visually analyze the flight path.
The Flying Engineer has flight data logs from a Cessna 172R for two flights spanning over 2 hours, and the parameters have been so exhaustive that it has supported academic use of the data.
VT-FGE, the ill-fated Diamond DA40CS that crashed in the December of 2013 when on a training flight, has the logging functionality. With the log, it will be immediately clear as to what went wrong, playback of which will prevent other students from repeating the same mistakes.
Unfortunately, schools and some private operators record the data, but do not have a program to pro-actively monitor and analyze every flight, every day, missing an opportunity to self learn and proactively enhance flight safety.