Spanish-born philosopher George Santayana coined the much-mangled aphorism that "those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it." At the Dubai Airshow yesterday, a French company and a Swiss airline captain showed how pilots can tap the lessons of the past through their aircraft's flight data monitoring system (FDM - known as FOQA, or Flight Operation Quality Assurance, in the U.S.).

It was while working for a Swiss airline in the 1990s that Dominique Mineo realized that reports produced by FDM/FOQA systems were not easy for pilots or airlines to interpret. He wrote new software that used FDM outputs to create an animated playback, with visual representations of cockpit instruments. In 2000, he set up CEFA Aviation in Alsace, France, to market this product. The company currently has more than 80 customers worldwide.

CEFA's latest innovation is called Aviation Mobile Services. AMS combines cloud data storage with a tablet application that enables pilots to replay detailed animations of recent flights. AMS will work with any aircraft. Use of the app is private, encrypted and secure.

Pierre Wannaz, a captain on A330s and 340s for Swiss Air, first came across CEFA's animations during his secondment as an investigator following a French air crash in the 1990s, and is now a senior advisor to CEFA. He argues that AMS offers a number of significant benefits for pilots. As an example, he describes an experience earlier this year, when he was in the cockpit of a Swiss A340, observing and instructing as a trainee pilot made his first take-off in the type.

"The trainee was a little bit too fast on the stick, so as instructor I intervened," he says. "He brought the pitch just below the pitch limiter. I thought to myself that we might be a little short on the tail clearance. After that, we got airborne and could not raise the landing gear, because we were just floating one or two feet above the runway. I was looking at the co-pilot, fighting for pitch, fighting for the roll. And finally, eventually, we started to climb, and could raise the landing gear."

The low tail clearance was picked up by the airline's automated monitoring of flight data, and triggered an email to the crew. This was received three days after the flight, and because Wannaz had discussed it in the crew's routine post-flight debriefing, no further action was taken. The information sent out was a table of second-by-second data points, with the low clearance highlighted.

"For me, the tail strike event wasn't the problem - the problem was what happened thereafter," Wannaz says. "We couldn't start flying, and the end of the runway was coming. After I asked for more details, we found that, most probably, we were in the vortex of a preceding aircraft.

"Now: if I had the possibility to see exactly what had happened - how did we fly? Where was the spoiler? Was it too much, or not enough? Could the pilot have raised the pitch a little bit more to be over the vortex, or not? - we would have had the facts to understand exactly what happened."

Had Wannaz and his crew had access to AMS on that flight, they could have downloaded an animation of the take-off within minutes of the flight landing at Shanghai, rather than discussing tabulated data by email days later. While still in the cockpit, they could have debriefed the incident, in person and as a crew, and discussed how to avoid similar occurrences again in future.

"I've asked my colleagues, and they say that out of every 10 takeoffs, they'd maybe like to see one or two again," Wannaz says. "But landings? I would say almost every pilot [would want to review] about half of their landings."

AMS has been in use by All Nippon Airways on its Boeing 787 fleet since March. CEFA data shows that more than 10,000 animations were replayed by ANA's pilots in the system's first seven months of deployment.

"They have conducted a survey among the pilots, and about 90% of them are either satisfied, or very satisfied, with the service," says Mineo. "It's like a gift the company is giving to the pilot: 'This is for you, for your own training - you can use it if you want, or not; it's up to you.' But in the end, both will get benefit out of it."