NTSB Asks Helicopter Manufacturers to Install Recording Systems FAA Refuses to Require


​WASHINGTON (June 2, 2020) ― The National Transportation Safety Board, in a safety recommendation report issued Tuesday called on helicopter manufacturers to equip turbine-powered helicopters with crash-resistant systems to record data, audio, and images.

The NTSB asked the manufacturers – Airbus Helicopters, Bell, Leonardo, MD Helicopters, Robinson and Sikorsky – to act since the Federal Aviation Administration has not implemented a series of NTSB recommendations made in 2013 and 2015.  Those recommendations were issued after NTSB investigators found the lack of recorded data hindered their understanding of several crashes that could have serious flight safety implications.

Helicopters meeting specific criteria established by the FAA are required to have crash-resistant systems to record flight data and cockpit audio.  None are currently required to have image recording capability.  Despite the lack of action from the FAA, some helicopter operators have equipped their aircraft with recording systems, including image recording capability, even though they are not required to do so.

“The more information we have, the better we can understand not only the circumstances of a crash, but what can be done to prevent future accidents,” said  Dana Schulze, Director of the NTSB Office of Aviation Safety. “We are asking that currently available recording technology be put to use in a way that will improve aviation safety.”

The NTSB cited seven helicopter investigations between 2011 and 2017 in which the lack of access to recorded data impeded their ability to identify and address potential safety issues.

They also identified five accidents in which investigators had the benefit of recorded data that was critical to understanding the circumstances of the crashes.  The findings and analysis of these investigations resulted in three NTSB urgent recommendations and led the FAA to issue an emergency airworthiness directive affecting an entire fleet of helicopters.

Although the FAA declined to mandate recorders on those helicopters not already required to have them, they said they encouraged operators since 2005 to install the equipment on a voluntary basis.  The NTSB, however, said since 86 percent of the 185 turbine-powered helicopter accidents it investigated between 2005 and 2017 had no recording equipment installed, the FAA actions were ineffective.

In addition to asking manufacturers to install crash-resistant recorders on newly built helicopters, the NTSB also asked them to provide a means to retrofit their helicopters with crash-resistant systems capable of recording flight data, cockpit audio and images on their helicopters not already so equipped. 

“The data these recorders can provide to investigators are data that can prevent accidents by allowing us to address safety issues that might otherwise go unidentified,” said Schulze. 

The safety recommendation report, ‘Install Flight Data, Audio, and Image Recorder Systems on all Turbine-Powered Helicopters,’ is available at https://go.usa.gov/xwjNj.

To report an incident/accident or if you are a public safety agency, please call 1-844-373-9922 or 202-314-6290 to speak to a Watch Officer at the NTSB Response Operations Center (ROC) in Washington, DC (24/7).