US safety board repeats calls for more robust flight recorders

Washington DC
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US safety officials are asking the FAA to bolster its March 2008 final rule requiring enhanced flight data recorders for new and existing commercial, commuter and business aviation aircraft.

In a letter to FAA, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) acting chairman Mark Rosenker says that after reviewing the new rule, officials were "pleased" that all larger passenger airliners will now be required to carry 2h cockpit voice recorders (CVRs), up from the current 30min minimum, but he is urging FAA to revisit the need for video recorders in the cockpit, a reconstruction tool the NTSB has previously recommended.

Other weaknesses in the rule, says the NTSB, include not requiring the older 30min CVRs in commuter and corporate jet aircraft be upgraded to 2h units, though the FAA will require 2h recorders for newly manufactured commuter and corporate aircraft. The new units will also feature higher sampling rates for flight control positions, providing more accurate accident and incident investigations.

The Board had also asked that all airliners be equipped with emergency power pack to add 10min of recorder operations after an electrical interruption, a feature that would have helped with accidents like ValuJet Flight 592 in 1996 and Swiss Air 111 in 1998. FAA is requiring new aircraft to have the feature, but is not asking for retrofits.

NTSB is also unhappy that its requests for certain configurations of microphones and dedicated channels, as well as for a recorder for the back of the plane, were not heeded.