April 25, 2012, 4:28 PM — One of the most important functions of the Federal Aviation Administration is to gather, review and analyze all manner of aviation safety data to reactively and more to the future, proactively prevent accidents and manage safety risks.
But that overarching and most valuable task is difficult to do because of a variety of reasons that include the sheer volume and multiple locations of data.
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Such difficulties were brought up in a report out today from the Government Accountability Office that stated: "Implementing systems and processes that capture accurate and complete data are critical for FAA to determine the magnitude of safety issues, assess their potential impacts, identify their root causes, and effectively address and mitigate them. Though FAA has put in place data quality controls, weaknesses remain in some areas. In particular, several FAA databases GAO reviewed in 2010 did not have a managerial review process prior to data entry — an important control that helps ensure data accuracy and completeness. In response to GAO's recommendations, FAA is taking steps to address its data weaknesses, but vulnerabilities that remain potentially limit the data's usefulness for safety analysis," the GAO stated.
How it overcomes such difficulties are key to the agency's goal of being more proactive in its data research and aviation safety recommendations. That program, known as the Safety Management Systems (SMS) is the FAA's plan to analyze data to identify and mitigate risks before they result in accidents. The GAO says the SMS system is a data-driven, risk-based safety program that heightens the importance of obtaining and using high-quality aviation safety data.
The GAO says the FAA faces some data-related challenges in including for example limitations with the analysis it conducts and the data it collects and the absence of data in some areas. For example, the GAO said the FAA does not have a process to track or assess runway excursions, which occur when an aircraft veers off or overruns a runway. Runway excursions can be as dangerous as runway incursions, which occur when an unauthorized aircraft, vehicle, or person is on a runway, and the FAA has tracked runway incursions for years.