NTSB: Retrofit all Cockpit Voice Recorder-Equipped Airplanes With 25-Hour CVRs


​​​Existing fleet excluded from FAA proposal

WASHINGTON (Feb. 13, 2024) – The National Transportation Safety Board Tuesday again called on the Federal Aviation Administration to require all existing airplanes that require a cockpit voice recorder and a flight data recorder to be retrofitted with devices capable of recording 25 hours of audio, instead of the current standard of two hours.

NTSB investigators were unable to hear cockpit voice recorder audio from the Jan. 5 Alaska Airlines accident because the data was overwritten. Since 2018, at least 14 NTSB investigations have been hampered because cockpit voice recorder, or CVR, data were overwritten, including seven serious runway incursions that occurred in early 2023.

“In the recent Alaska Airlines door plug blowout accident, our investigators don’t have the CVR audio to fully understand all of the challenges the flight crew faced in response to the emergency,” said NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy. “Any investigation in which the CVR audio is overwritten and unavailable to us, means that we may miss opportunities to address safety issues identified on recordings. And that’s unacceptable.”

Image of table on page 3 of the letter depicting 14 NTSB aviation investigations hampered by overwritten CVR data.

​The FAA recently announced plans to align with rules and standards already in place in Europe and at the International Civil Aviation Organization by requiring newly manufactured airplanes to have 25-hour CVRs. The FAA proposal would not apply to the current fleet, even though airplanes can be in service for decades.

In a response to the FAA’s notice of proposed rulemaking, the NTSB challenged the FAA’s assertion that retrofitting the fleet is too expensive. The NTSB said a retrofit would apply to about 13,500 aircraft -- less than half of the 29,561 the FAA estimated in its cost/benefit analysis.

In 2018, after a near-collision involving numerous wide-body jets loaded with passengers at San Francisco International Airport, the NTSB issued two CVR recommendations to the FAA:

  • Require all newly manufactured airplanes that must have a CVR be fitted with a CVR capable of recording the last 25 hours of audio.
  • By January 1, 2024, require retrofit of all CVRs on all airplanes required to carry both a CVR and a flight data recorder with a CVR capable of recording the last 25 hours of audio. 

“CVRs are among the most valuable tools for accident investigation because they provide contemporaneous information on flight crew intentions and coordination as well other factors, such as procedural compliance, workload, fatigue, and situational awareness,” said Tim LeBaron, director of the NTSB’s Office of Aviation Safety. “This information is critical to our ability to conduct more thorough investigations and target safety recommendations more effectively.”

Read NTSB’s full com​ments to the FAA’s NPRM.

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).