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Uber Elevate has selected GE Aviation to develop requirements for a flight data monitoring (FDM) program to support Uber Air, the eVTOL ridesharing service it aims to launch by 2023.
FDM is the process of analyzing and reviewing routinely recorded flight data; for example, airspeed and altitude profiles. This information can be used to identify deviations from standard operating procedures that could indicate a need for safety interventions such as better pilot training or changes to flight paths.
First introduced in the commercial airline industry over 20 years ago, FDM and associated flight operations quality assurance (FOQA) programs are integral to safety management systems (SMS), and have been widely credited with helping to reduce the sector’s accident rate.
FDM has been slower to catch on in the part 135 on-demand air carrier world, not least because the required equipment was for many years too bulky and expensive for smaller aircraft. However, the past decade has seen rapid advances in the technology, and compact FDM solutions are now widely available for light aircraft including helicopters. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that FDM and SMS be implemented by all carriers operating under 14 Code of Federal Regulations part 135 — the regulations that Uber expects will initially apply to Uber Air.
According to Uber Elevate head of aviation safety John Illson, a former captain for U.S. Airways with extensive safety experience in the part 121 commercial airline world, Uber Elevate is “voluntarily implementing a safety management system and developing voluntary programs that have yielded proven safety benefits for the aviation industry.” Illson previously told eVTOL.com that Uber would support a regulatory requirement for SMS in part 135 operations.
Such programs could be key to achieving the overall level of safety that Uber believes will be necessary for large-scale adoption of eVTOL air taxis. While most discussions of eVTOL safety to date have focused on the appropriate target level of safety (TLS) for the reliability of aircraft systems, Uber has advocated for a stronger focus on operational safety, pointing out that around 70 percent of part 135 fatal accidents can be attributed to operator error, versus only around 16 percent for airworthiness system failures.