KDnuggets : News : 2008 : n02 : item20 < PREVIOUS | NEXT >


Subject: Avoiding Plane Crashes By Crunching Numbers: Data Mining Helps Identify Subtle Flaws

By Del Quentin Wilber, Washington Post, January 13, 2008

PHOENIX -- For decades, aviation authorities played the role of homicide detectives. When an airliner went down, they scoured the crash site and flight recorders for clues that often showed how to avert future accidents.

But with so few crashes in recent years, air carriers and regulators have been trying to find other ways to identify potentially dangerous trends. Instead of digging through debris, they now spend far more time combing through computer records, including data downloaded from thousands of daily flights and scores of pilot incident reports.

The information is stored on banks of computers, such as the server housed in a windowless office of a US Airways hangar here. Like its counterparts at other carriers, a small team of pilots and analysts sift through thousands of records daily looking for the seeds of the next big air crash.

In recent years, the team has uncovered such potential safety problems as unsafe landing and takeoff practices and difficult landing approaches. The data have helped pinpoint areas that pose an increased risk of midair or ground collisions and have led to the discovery of a large bulge in the runway of a Vermont airport. Even after threats have been reduced, US Airways' executives and pilots say they keep monitoring the data to ensure that their new procedures work.

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