New iPad Application Helps Pilots Assess Flying Risks
Touchscreen Tablets in Electronic Flight Bags are Improving Safety
Airline Industry Trends toward Tablet UseA new application, the iPad Flight Risk Assessment Tool (iFrat), is making it easy for pilots to assess, document and communicate risks in upcoming flights. The app is designed for fixed-wing and helicopter general aviation and private pilots, targeting military groups such as the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as small commercial operators who benefit from a cost-effective tool that enables safety and record-keeping.
Flight apps designed for tablets offer pilots an easy way to store and share information when and where it is needed. Most pilots carry tablet devices, whether provided by their employers or for their own personal use. Tablets are primarily used for pre-flight planning and data storage, replacing big books and heavy manuals. If they have access to 4G connectivity, pilots can use tablets that have been pre-loaded with moving displays, maps and even instrument approaches relevant to the aircraft.
The Benefits of Using iFrat
Using a tablet app for flight risk assessment offers many advantages, such as instant communication and the ability to replace filing paper reports and plans. Dan Deutermann, managing director of The Squadron, the aviation consulting firm that created iFrat, asserts that the app’s simple format and touchscreen functionality encourages use by pilots.
Persuading operators to convey information back to their safety departments is a big challenge for many organizations, says Deutermann. Filling out paper forms can be tedious, with the added challenge of ensuring the paperwork makes it to the right destination. In many cases, those records are cast aside and kept only for liability.
“Operators complain that paper forms and conventional risk assessment models are clunky and lack subjectivity. Using the iFrat app actually creates conversations,” adds Deutermann. “We rarely have seen a tool spark valuable pre-flight discussions between pilots and management, or between the operators themselves. But this app does.”
Pilots may complete the risk assessment process on their tablet’s touchscreen before or during flight — or even during breaks, to plan for upcoming flights, evaluate conditions and analyze previous flights. The entire process generally takes less than five minutes.
When creating the app, The Squadron wanted to make something that would stimulate visual cognitive functions in a simple format to procure valuable data from pilots. The pilot taps on statements within the app that say things like “weather is great,” or “pilot has flown for four to six hours,” which presents a fatigue factor. Through the use of algorithms, the app then assigns a color (green, amber and red) to each risk factor in several different categories. Each factor that the pilot assesses has a graduated sliding scale that reflects the subjective nature of what the pilot thinks about the risks at hand.
Fig. 1: The final page of the iPad Flight Risk Assessment Tool (iFrat) shows the results of the pilot’s risk assessment before sharing with operators. (Source: The Squadron, Inc.)
Kevin Nelson, president of Nelson AeroDynamiX, a company that conducts flight training and manages VIP helicopters, says his pilots didn’t use any formal risk assessment process before implementing iFrat. They had a conventional computerized safety management system, which was expensive and took more than 10 minutes to use.
“Pilots were just going through the motions, and they viewed it as having to complete more paperwork that didn't increase safety anyway," said Nelson.
Additionally, Nelson finds running the app convenient even when the pilots do not have Internet access.
“One of our pilots could be in (another) country without access to the Internet and fill it out. Later, when he has Wi-Fi in his hotel, he can upload an email with his flight notes from halfway across the world. This creates an easy way to email a manager, a chief pilot, or whomever to report ‘I’m getting exhausted’ or ‘the auto-widget is starting to make noises, let’s get someone to look at it,’” he added.
For new pilots, iFrat is a form of mentorship. For more experienced pilots, it’s more of a complacency check and a reminder. But, neither new nor experienced pilots have to spend a lot of time typing. They can quickly review the list of risk factors, tap to make their personal assessments and then add notes. The final summary only shows the yellows and reds and highlights the hazards.
As technology develops, the aerospace industry is seeing the impacts that new advances can make on operations and safety.
“With the iFrat app, you can have an effective safety management risk assessment in less than a minute. That’s unheard of in the industry, and truthfully, that’s part of the problem safety management systems face,” Nelson says. “A pilot may end up not going up or changing a mission based on what the app helps them assess, so it’s easy to arrive at the conclusion that lives are actually being saved by this tool.”