Military Flight Operations Quality Assurance (MFOQA) is the analysis of routine flight data to detect, measure, and mitigate hazards, while promoting the proper use of data for safety. It’s about safety without the mishap! This two-decade old aviation safety initiative is overseen by the Air Force Safety Center at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico.
MFOQA, also called flight data analysis, is an industry standard in aviation and used throughout many nation’s military and civilian flying organizations worldwide. For the US, DoDI 6055.19 Aviation Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment Programs mandates all fleets in all services establish an MFOQA program. The U.S. Air Force currently collects data from more than a dozen fleets and multiple variants of aircraft, however, only fleets that can provide high quality & quantity of recorded parameters (AFPAM 63-129), routine access to unclassified flight data and a data translation key are able to participate. Every month the Air Force Safety Center analyzes approximately 6.5 terabytes of data from 22,000 flights performed by 2,600 aircraft. Former Air Force instructor and evaluator pilots under contract with the Safety Center examine the flight data to detect mishap precursors and produce monthly reports for aircrew, operational leaders and safety officers.
MFOQA is “big data.” At a fraction of the cost of post-mishap investigation, MFOQA provides a proactive means to identify hazardous trends and mitigate them before loss of life, equipment, and resources vital to national security. Whereas investigative safety focuses on post-mishap data analysis, MFOQA focuses almost entirely on routine, every-day successful missions to establish baselines of normal operations. The data tells “how” the crews are flying, what techniques they’re using and how the aircraft is performing. After a baseline is established, trends that stray away from the norm can be detected. Sometimes these trends are positive and can be benchmarked out to the fleet, many times these trends are hazardous and can be mitigated before the mishap happens, often just through messaging to the community alone.
MFOQA is a non-punitive, identity-protected program designed to root out hazards, not punish pilots or crews. DAFI 91-225 Aviation Safety Programs directs MFOQA protections; “aviation safety programs shall not be used to initiate crew qualification downgrade, take adverse personnel action, or monitor personnel performance. Prohibited actions include qualification actions, administrative discipline, non-judicial punishment, or judicial action.” MFOQA also has various benefits including validating effectiveness of tactics, training and procedures by measuring what actually happens out in the system; providing insight on how well flights are following mission profiles; learning where unstable approaches, a key mishap precursor, and go-arounds are most likely to occur, and assessing whether a procedural change has improved operations or made things worse, to name a few. Also, safety professionals and leaders can request customized analyses that lend specific insights into their operations.
MFOQA reduces AF mishaps by identifying operational and maintenance anomalies from baseline operations, providing commanders critical awareness of hazards and actionable information for risk mitigation. The program strengthens alliances through analysis for FMS partners and enabling cooperation on hazard reduction. As part of a comprehensive mishap prevention program, MFOQA quantifies safety, training, maintenance and operational trend information to improve efficiency, mission performance, and increase combat readiness.