Data4Safety: A partnership for a data driven aviation safety analysis in Europe

On Air, Issue 17: Data for Safety
What is the Data4Safety programme?
Data4Safety (also known as D4S) is a data collection and analysis programme that will support the goal to 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 issue 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
This programme is highly innovative, very complex and ambitious enough to be a “game-changer”. It is not an initiative that EASA contemplates doing alone. Not because the Agency is afraid of the complexity, but because it would not make sense. Hence, as of day one, the idea was an EU wide partnership with EASA’s safety partners.

First and foremost, you have the organisations that will be full members of the programme. They are usual safety partners from the European Aviation Community: the airlines, manufacturers, Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSP), National Aviation Authorities (NAA), pilots, maintenance organisations, airports, etc. Such a programme is meant to be done with them. They have the data, the expertise and we share the same goal 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 have 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 (such as text mining) 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 of this project 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 are 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 this technology will enable us to process the data and extract all the information in it.

However, just amassing data could be quite a futile exercise if you are not able to analyse it. Therefore, other 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 (mathematicians) who analyse and interpret complex digital data and develop the famous algorithms.

D4S organisation in practice
Data4Safety would be a Private Public Partnership or PPP – a partnership between public bodies such as EASA or NAAs and the private sector, like airlines or manufacturers. Creating such a PPP would make sense as the programme is aligned with and support the European Commission strategy for transport (including synergies with maritime and railways strategies) and the EU Digital Agenda.

There are several forms of PPP, SESAR JU (Single European Sky ATM Research Joint Undertaking) is one example. EASA is currently exploring the best legal form for the D4S programme. It is a long process and should take about 3 years. EASA Senior Management is conducting the high-level political discussions required at EU level to explain, convince and secure the buy-in and funding of Data4Safety.

In the meantime, EASA launched an initial phase called the “Proof of Concept” in 2017. The objective is to build a prototype or tester with a limited number of partners and a limited technical scope to test the technical and organisational challenges of the programme before launching the operational phase planned for 2020.

Measures of success
There are three elements that will be closely monitoring 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) and will practically support rulemaking or certification activities. 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.

(i)  NOTE: On the 31st of March 2017, key actors from the aviation sector agreed to join in a co-operative partnership the Data4Safety programme initiated by EASA. Participants were: 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), the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) (Airlines, Aircraft Manufacturers, National Aviation Authorities and Pilot Unions).