Surveillance cameras in the cockpit are on their way, whether the pilots like it or not. Understandably, they do not. Accident investigators and aviation authorities, however, think that many of the recent unsolved, unproven or "difficult" accidents - like the Silk Air Boeing 737 in 1998, the Swissair MD-11 in 1998 and the EgyptAir 767 last year - would have been clarified or solved by the existence of flight deck video recorders.

Many other accidents, investigators claim, would have been understood far more quickly and at less cost had they been able to see what was happening.

It is easy to see how flight deck cameras would be appealing and occasionally useful as an investigators' tool. It is also easy to see what pitfalls there are in their use and misuse.

Which other professionals, business people, or artisans are scrutinised in the process of their everyday work as commercial transport pilots are - even without cameras? What others are competence-checked as frequently and as scrupulously as they are? It would only take a moment's thought for an office, hospital or factory worker to realise that similar levels of scrutiny in their workplace could be considered intolerable, and would be open to misinterpretation and abuse by employers.

Just as voice communications can be - and have been - misunderstood, especially where multi-cultural crews and investigators are concerned, so can gestures. And if cutting investigation costs becomes a major factor in the use of flight deck cameras, the potential for investigatory short-cuts resulting in assumptions, rather than proof, is frightening.

Finally, there appears to be nothing which can stop the world's media from broadcasting cockpit video recorder exchanges in the last seconds of a crews' life. Television media will get the video footage of the last seconds of pilot's lives as well. Under present rules that is a certainty, and the ghoulish use to which this material could be put does not bear thinking about.

Until the world is prepared, and able, to protect this material from media exploitation, cameras must be banned from the flight deck. If cameras are used, then every scrap of "evidence" that they have must be cross-checked, with the FDR as the master source.

Source: Flight International