ATSB calls for safety review

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The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has recommended that Australia reviews maintenance requirements for cockpit voice and flight data recorders, bringing them in line with international standards. The call is a result of the bureau’s ongoing investigation into the crash of a Fairchild Metro III in Queensland in May 2005. The investigation has been hampered by a failure to retrieve usable data from the CVR and FDR, writes Emma Kelly.

The Metroliner crashed into a ridge on a scheduled flight from Bamaga to Cairns via Lockhart River, killing all 13 passengers and two crew. The ATSB recovered the CVR and the FDR from the crash site. The CVR contained electrical pulses and fragments of conversations, some from previous flights, but useable data could not be recovered. While useful information regarding the flight was retrieved from the FDR, one parameter was unserviceable and had been for at least the previous 59 flights.

Australian regulations require the CVR’s self-test functions to be run as part of a pilot’s checklist before every flight, but the unit is only checked by a qualified engineer every 12 months. This compares with international requirements of a check of proper recording on each channel by an engineer every six months and a complete system check every 12 months. International regulations require FDRs to undergo a functional check, ensuring that all mandatory parameters are serviceable, every 12 months or 3,000h, while there is no such requirement in Australia.

The ATSB has already recommended that all Australian-registered aircraft operating scheduled air transport operations be fitted with autopilot equipment following the Lockhart crash investigation.