The Air Force Military Flight Operations Quality Assurance (MFOQA) Program analyzes routine flight data to detect, measure and mitigate mishap precursors while protecting crew identity.
MFOQA is a 17-year-old proactive safety initiative overseen by the Air Force Safety Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, Albuquerque, N.M. British Airways initiated FOQA in 1962, and since then the following operators have begun using FOQA or MFOQA analysis results: 12 U.S. Air Force mission design series and more are coming, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Army, allied air forces, more than 40 airlines and corporate flight departments in the U.S., and International Civil Aviation Organization airliners with maximum takeoff weight more than 60,000 pounds. Every month the Air Force Safety Center analyzes approximately 200 gigabytes of data from 6,000 flights performed by 1,300 aircraft.
Former Air Force instructor pilots under contract with the Safety Center analyze the flight data and produce monthly reports for aircrew, operational leaders and safety officers. Our MFOQA analysts study the aggregate data to establish a baseline of normal flight operations, detect trends toward operational limits, and examine exceedences of preset parameters. Doing so allows leaders to perform early intervention to correct adverse safety trends before they lead to mishaps. Not only that, but subsequent analyses of the same hazards allow leaders to objectively measure whether the corrective action has been effective.
The Air Force goes to great lengths to ensure that MFOQA is a non punitive program. Numerous aircrew protections promote the proper use of data used for MFOQA, since aircrew are expected to act as professional aviators responsible for safe and efficient flight operations. The MFOQA information flow aggregates data from multiple flights before processing that data through customized software, and searching for trends that point to unsafe latent conditions, such as poorly designed procedures, normalization of deviance, or unsafe external conditions.
However, determining the cause of a trend may require evaluation of individual flights feeding that trend. In those cases the official Office of the Secretary of Defense memo that mandates MFOQA (11 October 2005) and Air Force Policy Directive 90-13, Military Flight Operations Quality Assurance, comes into play. It states, "Data generated from the MFOQA process shall not be used for monitoring aircrew performance to initiate punitive or adverse action. In cases of suspected willful disregard of regulations and procedures, MFOQA data may be used for action." That means that if an aircrew makes a mistake that is uncovered during data analysis, action will not be taken against the crew. On the other hand, if the data analysis identifies unusual activity that appears to violate regulations, commanders may use the information to conduct an investigation.
Benefits from using MFOQA include validating effectiveness of tactics, training and procedures by measuring what actually happens out in the system; comparing actual versus calculated aircraft performance data; providing insight on how tightly flights are following mission profiles; learning where unstable approaches and go-arounds are most likely to occur; detecting exact parts of profiles where over/under-loads, over-speeds, and over-temps are most likely to occur; measuring variations in mission accomplishment within pre-established limits in order to optimize processes; and assessing whether a procedural change has improved operations or made things worse. Also, safety professionals and leaders can request customized analyses that lend specific insights into their operations.
This is the cutting edge of mishap prevention. Welcome to MFOQA!