News Details

Boeing engineers use new tools to understand air safety risks

April 26, 2010

As the 2009 Hudson River ditching of USAir Flight 1549 demonstrated, bird strikes are an ongoing aviation safety hazard. Approximately 20 commercial jetliners experience bird strikes each day in North America alone.


Roger Nicholson, associate technical fellow of Aviation Safety, said the reporting of these events and understanding the data contained in those reports can provide rationale to update airplane design requirements and flight crew procedures. The information also helps inform decisions and strategies for other aviation stakeholders, including airlines, regulators, airport operators and air traffic controllers.


"Bird strikes are not isolated events and the hazard of bird strikes isn't going away. The population of birds is increasing, flights are increasing and engines are becoming quieter and quieter," said Nicholson. "That's why it is crucial we understand the wildlife strike hazard so the aviation industry can develop mitigating strategies."


To improve the speed and efficiency of that understanding, Nicholson worked with Andrew Wade, a Simon Fraser University masters' student serving an internship in Boeing Airplane Safety Engineering. Wade's specialty is visual analytics, an interdisciplinary field that uses visual representations of data to find meaningful patterns. Visual analytics strives to synthesize information and derive insight from massive, dynamic and disparate datasets.


"Many things we see every day are processed quickly by our brain without any conscious effort at all. Data visualization is a very efficient way to get at the data you're looking for. It's a lot faster than a lot of methods used right now," said Wade.


Wade and Nicholson have already used visual analytics tools and methodologies to influence design decisions on the 777, 747-8, 737 and P-8A.


"The potential for visual analytic tools and methodologies extends far beyond bird strike analysis to the many organizations within Boeing requiring an understanding of ever-increasing quantities of data," said Nicholson.


Photo Caption: Boeing Aviation Safety engineers are using visual analytic tools to speed understanding of large quantities of data related to bird strike risks. Using IN-SPIRE, a data analytic tool, makes it easier to discover patterns, or themes, in the data. The visual representation of bird strike data shown here displays the themes contained in 1,087 text documents with the higher peaks representing the most dominant themes. (Boeing image)


The above article is provided courtesy of The Boeing Company


Boeing offers no endorsement of any software mentioned in this article.  Other software tools (Tableau, Geotime, Starlight, Jigsaw, etc.) and new research into paired analysis are being investigated in the conduct of the visual analytics collaboration among Boeing, Aeroinfo (a Boeing company), Simon Fraser University, and the University of British Columbia.



(4/19/2010) By Sandy Angers

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