An adaptive online learning model for flight data cluster analysis

Weizun Zhao, Fang He, Lishuai Li, Gang Xiao

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedings/Edited volumeConference contributionScientificpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Safety is a top priority for civil aviation. To help airlines further improve safety, various clustering-based methods were developed to better understand their current flight operations and detect unknown risks from onboard flight data. However, existing methods can only be carried on historical data in batches, resulting in its inability to update and adjust as new data come in. New onboard flight data related to anomaly detection are generated at airlines every day. The addition of new data will inevitably cause changes in the clustering results. Yet it would be computational costly to run clustering on all data as they accumulate. Therefore, anomaly detection methods that allow real-time update of cluster models as new data come in are more practical for airlines. This paper presents a reinforcement learning method to identify common patterns in flight data via cluster analysis and update its clusters as new data come in. This method is based on Gaussian Mixture Model (GMM) and uses online (recursive) expectation-maximization (EM) algorithm to update clustering results over time. An initial result of clusters can be obtained by performing GMM-based clustering on historical flight data. Then, as new data come in, the parameters of GMM are updated via an online EM algorithm. By recording the GMM parameters, the method can also track changes in clusters over time. We demonstrated the proposed method using Flight Data Recorder (FDR) data from real operations of an airline. The evolution of clusters was observed as new batches of flight data are fed into the proposed method.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDASC 2018 - IEEE/AIAA 37th Digital Avionics Systems Conference, Proceedings
PublisherInstitute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)
ISBN (Electronic)9781538641125
Publication statusPublished - 7 Dec 2018
Externally publishedYes
Event37th IEEE/AIAA International Digital Avionics Systems Conference, DASC 2018 - London, United Kingdom
Duration: 23 Sep 201827 Sep 2018

Publication series

NameAIAA/IEEE Digital Avionics Systems Conference - Proceedings
ISSN (Print)2155-7195
ISSN (Electronic)2155-7209


Conference37th IEEE/AIAA International Digital Avionics Systems Conference, DASC 2018
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Adaptive online clustering
  • Expectation maximization
  • Flight data
  • Gaussian mixture models


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