Flying made safer through artificial intelligence

Airlines could be alerted to potential problems in aircraft before they can jeopardise safety on a future flight, thanks to a new computer program which uses artificial intelligence (AI).The capability is being developed at the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Industrial Research (IIR) where specialists use artificial intelligence techniques for industrial applications.

The program analyses data recorded in an aircraft’s black box after every flight and flags up abnormalities which fall outside the airline’s standard safety parameters.  It highlights even tiny aberrations in the flight data which would not usually be identified, allowing the airline to investigate and take remedial action if necessary before safety is compromised.

Currently flight data monitoring is a semi-automated process carried out on a flight by flight basis using a set of pre-defined safety criteria which check for known problems.

The new system works by comparing flights against each other and looks for similarities within apparently random sequences of data.  Those which are most similar are grouped together to identify recurring patterns and anomalies during a flight, which would previously have gone undetected.

Head of the IIR, Dr David Brown, said: “Every flight generates masses of data generated from dozens of instruments and hundreds of information feeds, requiring hours of labour intensive scrutiny by skilled observers.  This intelligent software will do the same job in a fraction of the time and will identify data that would never have been detected by a human being.  It literally looks for the needle in the proverbial haystack.”


The industry requires that airlines monitor data from all passenger flights over 27 tonnes.  This includes aircraft ranging from 10 seat corporate jets to commercial jets seating up to 850 passengers, such as the Airbus A380.

The IIR is developing the programme in conjunction with Flight Data Services Ltd, a flight data monitoring company based in Fareham, Hampshire. The programme is expected to be completed later this year when it will be incorporated into the services it provides to its 50 customer airlines worldwide.

“In this industry safety is everything.  Flagging up potential safety issues early means that airlines can take any necessary corrective measures and ensure their operations are as safe as they can possibly be,” said Flight Data Services Director, David Jesse.

The programme is being developed in response to the industry’s need for a more comprehensive and accurate system of flight data monitoring, however Dr Brown has highlighted that the results could be used to analyse where aircraft are being operated inefficiently to reduce fuel consumption and emissions.”