Making safety accessible

Avatar for Dayna FedyDayna Fedy | December 3, 2020

Estimated reading time 8 minutes, 40 seconds.

Spidertracks and its latest Virtual FDR hardware, the Spider X, are enabling proactive safety insights and delivering tangible value for fixed- and rotary-wing operators around the globe.

Having a robust safety management system is paramount in all corners of aviation. But at the heart of the safety management process is the ability to monitor operations and make continuous improvements — with the ultimate goal of preventing incidents from ever happening at all. Flight data monitoring (FDM), or flight operations quality assurance (FOQA) programs are key to safer and more efficient operations, but there are significant barriers that prevent operators from acquiring the technology to implement such programs. 

That’s where Spidertracks — a New Zealand-based aircraft tracking and communications specialist — stepped in, leveraging nearly two decades of expertise to offer fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft operators an easy entry into FDM.

“We’ve got a key position in the market where we’re monitoring thousands and thousands of aircraft performing critical missions,” said Steve Whitaker, Spidertracks chief operating officer. “We looked at how we can build on what we’ve got to help provide our customers with a proactive safety system — how do we enable a FOQA/FDM program?” 

Enter the Spidertracks platform, which delivers operational and safety insights to aircraft operators around the globe. And the company’s latest hardware offering, the Spider X, encompasses this platform in a compact, plug-and-play solution that acts as a Virtual FDR for any aircraft type. 

The Spider X collects critical data off the aircraft through what Spidertracks calls Virtual Flight Data Recording — sampling flight parameters like the aircraft’s roll, pitch, yaw and rates of change at very high frequencies — all while eliminating the barriers that are common in today’s industry.

“The same barriers exist today in flight data monitoring that existed in tracking when we started,” said Whitaker. “The boxes are $20,000 and it’s a 30-hour install. Even the higher end operators that we speak to can’t justify rolling that out across their fleet. . . . Less than 10 percent of the market is utilizing [FDM] right now. . . . We have a cost-effective solution that provides an entry to a FOQA program with the basics they need to get insights into their safety.”

Aside from cost, Whitaker noted three major barriers in the market today that deter people from adopting a FOQA program: installation, data transferring, and data configuration. These barriers are no longer a concern with the Spider X. 

The hardware’s plug-and-play ability allows it to be quickly installed on aircraft fleets of all types and sizes without complex and costly certification. And with the use of cellular connectivity, flight data is available for review on the Spidertracks platform by the time a pilot lands, completes post-flight procedures, and walks inside. Then, operators can look at and organize the data without the need for a costly specialists safety team. 

“What we want to do is present the information in a really easy, digestible way that doesn’t take hours of configuration,” said Whitaker.   

Spidertracks is helping operators improve the safety of their operations in nearly every sector, from aerial firefighting and airborne law enforcement, to wildlife rescue and flight school services. 

“We have operators in Botswana hunting elephant poachers, or in the Congo rescuing gorillas,” said Zandri Banks, Spidertracks brand and communications manager. “Many of our customers are flying low, dangerous missions or doing tour operator work. Safety is key across our industry; regardless of mission profile… Every day is a new story of how people are utilizing Spidertracks with their aircraft.”

As an IoT gateway, the Spider X will always be capable of being updated wirelessly, meaning the product will continue to evolve and retrieve more data off the aircraft — like accurate starts, stops, take-offs and landings. 

But the Spider X is just one piece of Spidertracks’ ever-changing platform, which brings undeniable value to aircraft operators from a safety standpoint. The hardware has created a springboard for Spidertracks to seize opportunities with massive safety and operational advancements. 

“The reality is, everyone is looking to be safer, and everyone knows the challenges,” said Banks. “They’re all under pressure to show they’re improving.”  

Spidertracks’ next phase, which it expects to launch by the end of the year, is Virtual FDR Insights — actionable data and information off your aircraft. 

Based on the aircraft data collected by the Spider X, Virtual FDR Insights will feed both operational and safety insights into an operator’s FOQA program — such as events and exceedances around the attitude of an aircraft, and how it was flown, to name a few. 

“We’ve got this two-pronged attack,” said Whitaker. “We want to provide operational insights to help improve the operator’s bottom line, in parallel to delivering the safety insights in a simple, digestible way.

“And then our goal is to keep layering onto that — to keep offering more insights using AI [artificial intelligence] and machine learning, and making it simple,” he added. “Our investment is making it simple for the operator, both from an install perspective and also getting value from the data and integrating and sharing information. That’s what our mission in life is: Make FDM/FOQA simple so that it can be adopted.”

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