The Transportation Department said Thursday it will begin analyzing information from flight data recorders on airliners in an effort to detect safety problems before accidents happen.
The move is part of a series of efforts to eliminate airline accidents, developed at a two-day industry conference in January, Transportation Secretary Federico Pena said.
Analyzing the information from flight data recorders and sharing the results with the industry will help experts spot unusual movements by aircraft or detect mechanical problems and suggest corrections, said David R. Hinson, head of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Flight data recorders track the movements of the airplane in flight and some collect large amounts of information on movement of control surfaces, engine speed and the actions of the flight crew. The recorders are routinely used to help investigators determine the cause of an accident.
Under the new system, the recorders could help authorities spot pilots who habitually approach landings too steeply, or could detect unusual control movements that indicate improper maintenance of a part, for example.
Thomas C. Accardi, an FAA official, said the data might be useful in evaluating pilot-training programs because analysts will be able to track the control movements in various flight conditions to see if pilots are following correct procedures.
Hinson said his agency promised the airlines that the data would not be used to take enforcement actions against pilots or airlines, a concern that made airlines reluctant to share the information in the past.
When a problem is detected, it will be reported to the airline, he said, and officials there would take any necessary action. Normal FAA inspection and enforcement programs will continue, he said.
Randolph Babbitt of the Air Line Pilots Assn. welcomed the change, saying it means the information can be used to help pilots. The Air Transport Assn., representing the industry, also endorsed the move and other steps to improve safety.
Among the other new safety programs announced Thursday are plans for increased use of simulators for advanced pilot training and for additional training on handling planes in unusual conditions; expanded mechanic training and setting new qualifications for maintenance technicians.