CVR should remain "sacred cow" to accident probes: ALPA

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Cockpit voice recordings are intended to be used as aids in accident investigations and should "remain a sacred cow for that", the Air Line Pilots Association's top safety executive said today in response to Colgan Air's proposal that the data be used to try and prevent accidents.

On 12 February, a Colgan Q400 stalled and went out of control on approach to Buffalo, New York. The aircraft crashed into a house about 9km (5nm) from the airport at 22.17, killing all 49 on board and one person on the ground.

A three-day National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) inquiry into the crash has honed in on the crew's lack of adherence to sterile cockpit rules.

The casual banter between the Colgan captain and first officer during most of the flight and the fact that neither individual spoke up about the breech in sterile cockpit is a concern, says NTSB member Debbie Hersman.

She wonders whether this is occurring "on other flights" and suggests there would be "less violations and demeanour [would be] more upright if pilots are being checked".

To this end, Colgan has requested that its pilots union, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), review the feasibility of using CVR recordings as part of an enhanced quality assurance programme.

But ALPA is opposed to such a measure. During testimony today, ALPA executive air safety chairman Rory Kay said he was "disappointed" about the Colgan letter, noting that the intent of a CVR is for accident investigation, not regular monitoring of pilots in the cockpit.

Kay says that while it is important for pilots to remind each other about the sterile cockpit "and important for airlines to remind crew about sterile cockpit", pilots should also be encouraged to hold discourse.

"In the old days, you had pilots who snarled at each other. We are enlightened these days. Even if I don't care for the person sitting next to me, we understand the importance of the information exchanges," says Kay.

Asked by a NTSB member if Colgan's letter is "reactive", Kay answered in the affirmative, adding that he does not want a pilot to be worried or stressed about an ever-present monitor.

Kay does not believe that more accidents would be prevented by introducing CVR to a flight operations quality assurance (FOQA) programme.

Long pilot commutes and fatigue have also been extensively addressed in this week's hearings. NTSB members learned yesterday about a software programme that would assist airlines to better match pilots to schedules to mitigate these problems.

Kay says ALPA "is on board" with the concept of a pilot fatigue mitigation system but that such a system should not replace changing "archaic flight time duty times".

He adds: "The FAA has got to get onboard and we have got to work collaboratively to create a new set of operating rules."