As reported by FlightGlobal, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is renewing its call for cockpit video recorders to be installed on commercial planes, but the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) is objecting.
Why the NTSB wants cockpit video recorders
The NTSB’s recently published list of “most-wanted” transportation safety improvements calls for the introduction of mandatory cockpit video recorders.
The safety organization is asking the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to require that “crash-protected cockpit image recording systems” be installed on all commercial jets going forward. This is intended to complement the flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders that are already installed on planes.
This isn’t the first time that the NTSB has made this request, as similar requests have been made by the organization for over a decade.
The NTSB explains that this kind of technology would have been useful in investigating recent crashes, including the Atlas Air 767-300 crash in Texas in 2019, as well as the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air 737 MAX crashes shortly before that.
Now, I don’t claim to be an aviation safety or technology security expert, but on the surface this seems to make sense. One would think that the more information you have when things go wrong, the better.
You might be thinking to yourself “if the NTSB has wanted cockpit video recorders for a decade, why haven’t they become a reality?” Well, a couple of reasons:
- Pilot unions pilots are strongly opposed to cockpit video recorders
- The FAA has privacy and security concerns about cockpit video recorders
Why pilots oppose cockpit video recorders
Why are pilots so concerned about cockpit video recorders? Well, here’s how ALPA describes its concerns:
“ALPA has long recommended that any additional resources should be focused on enhancing current safety systems to record more data of a higher quality as opposed to video images, which are subject to misinterpretation and may in fact lead investigators away from accurate conclusions.
Flight deck image recorders will not improve safety and could, in fact, impede it by diverting limited resources that could be used for more-valuable safety enhancements.”
That argument seems questionable at best. On the most basic level, ALPA thinks that video recording is subject to misinterpretation, but audio recording isn’t? And then there’s the argument about resources, as if cockpit video recorders could only be installed at the expense of something else.
It’s hard to interpret this as anything other than an attempt to avoid shifting any blame for an accident on pilots, no?
The FAA’s concerns about cockpit video recorders
The FAA has a few concerns as well, primarily around privacy and security. These concerns seem more legitimate to me:
“Video image recorders in cockpits raise significant privacy and security concerns that to date have not been adequately addressed.
While the FAA encourages the voluntary use of these devices, we do not believe it is appropriate to mandate image recording systems until privacy and security issues are more completely addressed.
The FAA has a close working relationship with the NTSB, and the two agencies share a common goal of promoting aviation safety and preventing aircraft accidents. The FAA takes NTSB recommendations very seriously, and the agencies agree on a course of action about 80% of the time.”
The NTSB is once again requesting that cockpit video recorders be installed on commercial aircraft. Pilot unions object to this because they’re concerned that video recordings could be misinterpreted, while the FAA has concerns about privacy and security.
I’ll be curious to see if this ever becomes a reality.
What do you make of the concept of cockpit video recorders?