When planes crash, we want to know what happened. The good news is that there’s technology available today that would give us the answers. The bad news is that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not mandated that aircraft operators install it [the tech], citing privacy, security, cost, and other concerns.
Commercial airliners are required to have only flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders, commonly called “black boxes”, but the NTSB has long called for cockpit image recorders, as well. Such video would have been extremely helpful in determining flight crew actions in recent crashes in Texas, Indonesia, and Ethiopia.
The NTSB believes other types of passenger-carrying commercial aircraft, such as charter planes and air tours, should be equipped with data, audio, and video recording devices. These operators should also have programs in place that analyze the data derived from these devices. Recorders and flight data management programs would not only help investigators solve accidents, but they would also help aircraft operators prevent crashes in the first place by allowing crew actions to be evaluated regularly.
Regardless of the recorder type, it must be able to survive a crash.
Lessons Learned: NTSB Investigations
The following crashes best exemplify why this safety improvement is needed.
Rapid Descent Into Terrain Island Express Helicopters Inc. Sikorsky S-76B, N72EX
Calabasas, CA | January 2020
Loss of Control at Takeoff Air Methods Corporation Airbus Helicopters AS350 B3e, N390LG
Frisco, CO | July 2015
Crash Following Loss of Engine Power Due to Fuel Exhaustion Air Methods Corporation Eurocopter AS350 B2, N352LN
Near Mosby, MO | August 2011
Stats to Know
Years the NTSB has been calling for cockpit image recorders
FAA-mandated cockpit image recorders in commercial airliner cockpits
Turbine-powered, nonexperimental, nonrestricted-category aircraft (operating under 14 CFR Part 91 or 135) in which flight crew were killed investigated by the NTSB between 2005 and 2020 where no recording equipment was installed.
Our Solutions . . . Take Action Now!
The FAA should mandate crash-resistant recorders in all passenger-carrying operations and require data monitoring and analysis programs. Operators should not wait for mandates to do so; they can realize the safety benefits of these technologies now.
- Require aircraft operating under 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Parts 91, 121, or 135 to install a crash-resistant flight recorder system on all newly manufactured turbine-powered, nonexperimental, nonrestricted-category aircraft; and/or require the retrofit of existing aircraft with such equipment.
- The crash-resistant flight recorder system should record cockpit audio and images with a view of the cockpit environment.
- Require that all existing and newly manufactured aircraft operated under 14 CFR Parts 121 or 135 and currently required to have a cockpit voice recorder and a flight data recorder be retrofitted with a crash-protected cockpit image recording system.
- Require aircraft operating under 14 CFR Part 135 to:
- install flight data recording devices capable of supporting a flight data monitoring program, and
- require a structured flight data monitoring program that reviews all available data sources to identify deviations from established norms and procedures as well as other potential safety issues.
- Install a crash-resistant flight recorder system that records cockpit audio and images with a view of the cockpit environment on all:
- newly manufactured and existing turbine-powered helicopters that are not equipped with a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder.
- existing turbine-powered helicopters that are not equipped with a flight data recorder or a cockpit voice recorder.
- Install a crash-protected cockpit image recorder system on all:
- newly manufactured and existing turbine-powered helicopters that are equipped with a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder.
- existing turbine-powered helicopters that are equipped with a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder.
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Updated April 6, 2021