Monday, 24 February 2020

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch is recruiting a Recorded Data Inspector.

Are you passionate about aircraft accident investigation and looking for a high profile role at the leading edge of aviation safety?
Aircraft accident investigation has never been more demanding and the AAIB remains one of the leading air safety investigation authorities in the world.
The purpose of this role is to investigate all recorded data aspects of aircraft accidents and serious incidents involving civil aircraft operating in the UK, its overseas territories and Crown Dependencies, and to assist those in other countries when there is a significant UK interest.
Further information including how to apply can be found on the Civil Service Jobs website.

The work of an AAIB Recorded Data Inspector
Adrian Burrows, Senior Inspector of Air Accidents (Flight Recorders)

Since becoming a recorded data inspector in 2003, my role has been a varied one requiring a very broad skill set, built up over time. This enables me and my colleagues to recover and analyse recorded data from almost any source, damaged or not, that might be of use to an investigation.

Such data sources could be the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, often referred to as the black boxes, that are normally fitted to large commercial transport aircraft, or a tablet device or smart phone that a private pilot might be using for navigation, and everything in between such as avionics, engine control units, GNSS receivers and video cameras. We are not restricted to aircraft-recorded data either, so ground sources such as surveillance and en-route radar, CCTV, still and video cameras all have the potential to shed some light into what may have happened to cause an accident or serious incident, either directly or by providing evidence supporting that found by the operations and engineering inspectors.

The biggest challenge is often the level of damage a device may have sustained. Sometimes, the level of mechanical or fire damage means that the data is either lost or unrecoverable. Other times I am amazed the data has survived. Most frustrating are the times when a device, usually an SD card, looks undamaged, and no matter what you do to it, it fails to reveal its secrets. That’s the point where outside help may be required as emerging technologies or well-practised experts in industry may have something new to offer that we can’t yet do, or time is set aside for me or a colleague to develop a new capability to help.

So, a typical day might see me removing a memory chip from a broken piece of avionics so that the chip’s memory can be read, or swapping the logic board of a damaged iPad into an undamaged one so that you can I which apps were running at the time of the accident, and what data was being recorded. Other times I might be downloading a modern flight data recorder and be presented with thousands of parameters (such as airspeed, altitude etc.) that need to be prioritised and analysed. A cockpit voice recorder download might need transcribing or the background noises analysed to determine if the mechanical noise signature of a failing component in a helicopter’s drive train is evident. All of this evidence needs to be described in a coherent, logical manner in our investigation reports, with graphs, charts and data overlaid on maps also used to illustrate the points I want to make.

A non-typical day for me might see me heading out to sea with our newly acquired flight recorder underwater locator beacon detection equipment looking for an aircraft lost at sea, or deploying to an accident site in a remote and challenging location. Then again, I might be travelling abroad to an accident site to assist with other countries’ investigations or to liaise with other experts in this field. Back home there could be an inquest at which I will present my evidence or a training course, identified as part of my personal development, to attend. If not too busy, the AAIB encourages me to go flying and maintain my PPL currency and improve my flying skills.

Another import aspect of my role is international liaison where I can help shape and influence European (and sometimes international) recording standards for the future. It also means that I get to participate in conferences where good working practices and experiences are shared, or industry trends and new technologies are explored, that could influence how the AAIB’s capabilities can be enhanced to meet future demands.

I am part of a small group of recorded data inspectors who take in turn to be on-call ready for the next deployment. As our interest is in all possible sources of recorded data, not just black boxes, when called upon to deploy, I will go to most accidents, usually joining my colleagues from operations and engineering at the accident site. Working together as a team from such an early stage in an investigation helps me focus on the data that is relevant to the investigation, and help try and build an early picture of what happened. Sometimes I’ll make a Safety Recommendation, one of the AAIB’s main mechanisms for improving aviation safety, that aims to improve the quality of recorded data or to introduce new sources for future investigations.

The above is a snapshot of some of things to expect as a recorded data inspector and illustrates the varied skill set that is required. So, if your background is aeronautics then you’ll quickly be delving into the world of electronics, and vice versa, if your background is electronics or avionics, expect to be considering the finer points of aircraft handling and performance as you try to unpick the clues in the wealth of recorded information available.

Flight recorder inspectors must:
hold a degree in electronics/electrical engineering or an aeronautical engineering related subject and/or be a chartered member of a relevant engineering institute
have extensive knowledge and experience of modern avionics
have a knowledge of aircraft performance
Broad-based professional aviation engineering experience is an advantage.

Duties of inspectors
The duties of all inspectors include:

conducting effective and efficient investigations to determine the causes of accidents and incidents
contributing to the timely publication of reports
producing draft safety recommendations that are well researched and effective in reducing risk within the industry
preparing and presenting statements and evidence at legal hearings including coroners’ inquests, fatal accident inquiries
sharing knowledge and enhancing international standards of accident and incident investigation

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