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Flight Data Monitoring In The Outback

Can you tell me more about your operation?

The Royal Flying Doctor Service (Queensland Section) operates 20 aircraft, with plans to increase the size of the fleet in the future. There are 75 pilots, 99 flight nurses and 61 doctors employed within the Queensland Section. RFDS transports around 11,700 patients a year. Much of this work is what we call inter-hospital transfers, which involves moving people between facilities so they can access better care. Around 10% are known as primary evacuations, which are high-acuity patients requiring urgent transport to better clinical care.

If you’re wondering, that’s about 26,000 flying hours a year. It's a very busy operation, as all of our aircraft are operating all the time. On any given day at three o'clock in the morning, as many as seven of the aircraft may be airborne and evacuating people around the state.

What does flight data monitoring mean to you and your company?

Currently within our fleet, only four Beechcraft Super King Air 350’s are fitted with flight data recorders (FDRs). However, we are going through a large fleet replacement process and, moving forward, anything we bring into the fleet will have data monitoring capability. Using fleet-wide monitory, we hope to improve our safety and training, and checking systems, given our single pilot operation.

For us it’s not just the safety component, but the business intelligence as well, in terms of managing what we do and then how our pilots operate. There's also the safety net for the single pilot operation, even though it can be a little bit retrospective at times.

The FDM provides opportunity for the RFDS to implement risk mitigation strategies to operate in certain areas because of the lack of infrastructure in remote areas. Australia’s remote aviation infrastructure can be quite basic when you compare it to America or Europe which have nice long paved runways. Dirt runways, international airports and the occasional road landing are all part of the Service’s remit.

We also want to use that data to prove that we can actually touch down where we say we need to, delivering consistency in training and standards. We cross-reference this data in our level D simulator for training purposes but having the actual data to back it up is important to us.

So it's good from a safety point of view and a business intel point of view. 

Do you find that the web access helps you when you're working in remote locations?

Since we are a 24/7 operation, the web access certainly is great when working in remote locations. It can be accessed from home, in the field, or wherever else it’s needed.

The visualizations are just brilliant, providing critical snapshots for people that help them understand what has happened. That's one of the things that attracted us to the product, it is a complete package in comparison to other solutions out there and we can tailor it to what we need. It just sits there and works away quietly in the background and we occasionally get a few little pings that we need to look at.

What would you say is the most challenging part of your operation?

It’s a very busy operation so keeping the network operating given the high tempo of activity is a big responsibility.

We have quite a young fleet, but due to the volume of activity, the fleet has quite a high air time. To put it in perspective, before the U.S. military began using the King Air, the RFDS had the highest utilization of King Air aircraft in the world.

This can be problematic in Australia because we've got so few people compared to our landmass, the infrastructure can be basic once you leave the coast and travel inland.

Some of the runways are not even lit. There are also seven designated road landing sites. It’s a pretty interesting thing to do and is a pretty spectacular event for people watching. It does present big challenges managing the risk adequately in this sort of operation. Getting the logistics together to coordinate a road landing can also be difficult in remote areas at short notice.

That, along with weather such as the wet season cyclones, and the desert, can prove to be quite challenging. 

If you could pick one of the most or the most useful capabilities or features of the platform, what would you choose?

Since our resources are limited, the fact that it works in the background with the parameters we have set means we only see what we need to see. It's quite a simple job to have a quick look at what the problem was and confirm or deny whether we need to look further.

It's also very nice visually. All the trends and metrics are well presented. The reports that you get are certainly very useful. We are very happy with the synergy between what we interpret and what the L3Harris team are sending us. Of course, there are variations as our operation varies from your everyday airline! So it’s good to have the flexibility in there as the aeromedical world do some things a little bit differently.

We were personally and professionally, very pleased with the product and enjoy working with it. It provides a full picture to assist in the management of our operations.

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Flight Data Monitoring