MOST WANTED
TRANSPORTATION SAFETY
IMPROVEMENTS

Federal Issues
AVIATION
Require Image Recorders


Objective

  • Install crash-protected image recorders in cockpits to give investigators more information to solve complex accidents.

Importance

In order to rapidly, effectively, and efficiently determine the factors related to an aircraft accident, the NTSB's investigators must have as much information as possible. Automatic information recording devices, such as image recording systems, would provide critical information to investigators about the actions inside the cockpit immediately before and during an accident. The fact that this information is recorded immediately prior to and during the accident sequence often gives investigators the ability to quickly determine and correct a problem. This knowledge results in the development of timely, more precise safety recommendations that are likely to reduce the occurrence of future similar accidents.

The NTSB's recommendations addressing image recording systems would have provided cockpit information that could have assisted in the investigation of several aircraft accidents, including the following:

  • ValuJet flight 592, the Florida Everglades, May 11, 1996
  • SilkAir flight 185, Indonesia, December 19, 1997
  • Swissair flight 111, Nova Scotia, September 2, 1998
  • EgyptAir flight 990, south of Nantucket, Massachusetts, October 31, 1999
  • King Air A100, near Eveleth, Minnesota, October 25, 2002
  • Two electronic news gathering helicopters, Phoenix, Arizona, July 27, 2007
  • go! flight 1002, near Hilo, Hawaii, February 13, 2008
  • Northwest Airlines flight 188, near Eau Claire, Wisconsin, October 21, 2009

Although conventional cockpit voice recorders (CVR) and digital flight data recorders (DFDR) record sounds and relatively comprehensive airplane data during an emergency, they do not show the initial cockpit environment leading up to the emergency. This information is critical in determining whether there had been subtle indications of an approaching emergency, whether the crew followed published procedures, and whether or not any of the crew's responses to the emergency were effective. Image recording systems increase the likelihood that information on such conditions will be fully known, which would make it possible to modify aircraft systems or training programs to assist future crews in recognizing these indications and effecting a safe recovery.

Summary of Action

On March 7, 2008, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a final rule, titled "Revisions to Cockpit Voice Recorder and Digital Flight Data Recorder Regulations," that addressed a number of open recommendations, including several that were on the Most Wanted List. However, the final rule did not address requiring image recorders on aircraft.

Small Aircraft

Considering the number of accidents occurring among smaller aircraft, the NTSB has identified the need to install crash-protected recording devices on all turbine-powered aircraft. An image recording system would provide critical information to investigators about the actions inside the cockpit immediately before and during an accident on aircraft not required to have a CVR or DFDR.

The NTSB recognizes the economic impact of requiring both a CVR and a DFDR on smaller aircraft and consequently recommends that these aircraft be equipped with a single crash-protected recorder: the image recorder. Such systems, estimated to cost less than $8,000 installed, typically consist of a camera and microphone located in the cockpit to continuously record cockpit instrumentation, the outside viewing area, engine sounds, radio communications, and ambient cockpit sounds. As with conventional CVRs and DFDRs, data from such a system is stored in a crash-protected unit to ensure survivability. Public Law 106-424, signed November1, 2000, provides for withholding from public disclosure voice and image recorder information for all modes of transportation.

In March 2003, the European Organization for Civil Aviation Equipment (EUROCAE) issued ED-112, "MOPS [Minimum Operational Performance Specification] for Crash Protected Airborne Recorder Systems." Amendment 2 to this document was issued by EUROCAE in September 2003. On July 28, 2006, the FAA issued Technical Standard Order (TSO) C176, "Aircraft Cockpit Image Recorder Systems," which incorporates ED-112.

In 2005, the FAA and the NTSB published a proof-of-concept study to evaluate several image-recording systems that were installed on an ED-112 compliant FAA aircraft and flown in various operational and environmental conditions. The United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority also published a proof-of-concept study, Research Project CAP 762, which evaluated the installation on an ED-112 compliant image recorder on a transport category airplane using a Boeing 737 flight simulator. In its April 17, 2009, letter, the FAA indicated that the published findings for those studies have provided valuable information about the potential uses of cockpit image recording systems on aircraft that are required to have a digital flight data recorder and/or a cockpit voice recorder and for those aircraft that are currently not required to carry any type of data recording equipment.

In 2007, the FAA and other government and industry representatives formed EUROCAE working group WG-77 to develop a flight recorder specification, titled "Minimum Operational Performance Specification for Lightweight Flight Recorder Systems" (ED-155). ED-155 identifies parameters that should be recorded according to the type of aircraft (that is, airplane or helicopter). Also, ED-155 accommodates variations in aircraft complexity by identifying parameters that should always be recorded and parameters that should be recorded if an information source for the parameter is used by aircraft systems and/or the flight crew to operate the aircraft. In August 2009, EUROCAE approved the minimum performance requirements contained in ED-155. The FAA is considering the installation of TSO-approved image-recording equipment on aircraft operated under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135 that do not currently have flight recorders.

In 2009, the FAA indicated that it was planning to meet with rotorcraft and airplane manufacturers that have expressed interest in developing flight data management systems (with image recording capabilities) to discuss issues related to certification and installation approval; however, the FAA has not indicated that it plans to require these systems as recommended.

Large Aircraft

The NTSB asked for the installation of cockpit image recorders in large transport aircraft to provide information that would supplement existing CVR and FDR data in accident investigations. The Future Flight Data Collection Committee (FFDCC) of RTCA, Inc. (formerly the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics), considered the issue of image recording and concluded that this methodology would provide useful information to accident investigation and that it was technologically feasible. The FFDCC did note concerns about the protection from disclosure outside of accident investigation, particularly for international flights. The NTSB's last reauthorization extended the protections that have long been in place for CVRs to image recorders.

In years past, the FAA has informed Congress that the FFDCC did not present information that was sufficiently compelling to convince the FAA of the necessity of installing image recording systems in aircraft operated under Parts 121, 125, or 135. In its September 2009, letter, the FAA indicated that if an applicant wishes to install a camera or video recording system voluntarily, it will work with the applicant to approve such an installation; however, the FAA indicated that it does not plan on taking any further action at this time to mandate the installation of cockpit image recording systems. The FAA also stated its position that the enhanced CVR and FDR requirements in the March 2008 final rule meet the intent of these safety recommendations and that it considers its actions complete.

Action Remaining

Require the installation of image recording systems in small and large aircraft.

Safety Recommendations

A-00-30 (FAA)
Issued April 11, 2000
Added to the Most Wanted List: 2002
Status: Open-Unacceptable Response

Require that all aircraft operated under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 121, 125, or 135 and currently required to be equipped with a cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and digital flight data recorder (DFDR) be retrofitted by January 1, 2005, with a crash-protected cockpit image recording system. The cockpit image recorder system should have a 2-hour recording duration, as a minimum, and be capable of recording, in color, a view of the entire cockpit including each control position and each action (such as display selections or system activations) taken by people in the cockpit. The recording of these video images should be at a frame rate and resolution sufficient for capturing such actions. The cockpit image recorder should be mounted in the aft portion of the aircraft for maximum survivability and should be equipped with an independent auxiliary power supply that automatically engages and provides 10 minutes of operation whenever aircraft power to the cockpit image recorder and associated cockpit camera system ceases, either by normal shutdown or by a loss of power to the bus. The circuit breaker for the cockpit image recorder system, as well as the circuit breakers for the CVR and the DFDR, should not be accessible to the flight crew during flight. (Source: A safety recommendation letter dated April 11, 2000, prompted by the lack of valuable cockpit information during the investigations of several aircraft incidents and accidents, including USAir flight 105 on September 8, 1989 [NTSB/AAR-90-04]; ValuJet flight 592 on May 11, 1996 [NTSB/AAR-97-06]; SilkAir flight 185 on December 19, 1997; Swissair flight 111 on September 2, 1998;, and EgyptAir flight 990 on October 31, 1999. [NTSB/AAB-02-01])

A-00-31 (FAA)
Issued April 11, 2000
Added to the Most Wanted List: 2002
Status: Open-Unacceptable Response

Require that all aircraft manufactured after January 1, 2003, operated under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 121, 125, or 135 and required to be equipped with a cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and digital flight data recorder (DFDR) also be equipped with two crash-protected cockpit image recording systems. The cockpit image recorder systems should have a 2-hour recording duration, as a minimum, and be capable of recording, in color, a view of the entire cockpit including each control position and each action (such as display selections or system activations) taken by people in the cockpit. The recording of these video images should be at a frame rate and resolution sufficient for capturing such actions. One recorder should be located as close to the cockpit as practicable and the other as far aft as practicable. These recorders should be equipped with independent auxiliary power supplies that automatically engage and provide 10 minutes of operation whenever aircraft power to the cockpit image recorders and associated cockpit camera systems ceases, either by normal shutdown or by a loss of power to the bus. The circuit breaker for the cockpit image recorder systems, as well as the circuit breakers for the CVRs and the DFDRs, should not be accessible to the flight crew during flight.
(Source: A safety recommendation letter dated April 11, 2000, prompted by the lack of valuable cockpit information during the investigations of several aircraft incidents and accidents, including USAir flight 105 on September 8, 1989 [NTSB/AAR-90-04]; ValuJet flight 592 on May 11, 1996 [NTSB/AAR-97-06]; SilkAir flight 185 on December 19, 1997; Swissair flight 111 on September 2, 1998; and EgyptAir flight 990 on October 31, 1999. [NTSB/AAB-02-01])

A-09-10 (FAA)
Issued February 9, 2009 (Superseded A-03-64)
Newly Added to the Most Wanted List
Status: Open-Unacceptable Response

Require all existing turbine-powered, nonexperimental, nonrestricted-category aircraft that are not equipped with a cockpit voice recorder and are operating under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Parts 91, 121, or 135 to be retrofitted with a crash-resistant flight recorder system. The crash-resistant flight recorder system should record cockpit audio, a view of the cockpit environment to include as much of the outside view aspossible, and parametric data per aircraft and system installation, all to be specified in European Organization for Civil Aviation Equipment document ED-155, "Minimum Operational Performance Specification for Lightweight Flight Recorder Systems," when the document is finalized and issued. (Source: A safety recommendation letter dated February 19, 2009, prompted by the lack of valuable cockpit information during the investigation of the midair collision of two Electronic News Gathering Helicopters, Phoenix, Arizona, July 27, 2007 [NTSB/AAR-09/02])