NTSB & Pilots At Odds Over Cockpit Video Recorders

Filed Under: Misc.

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.”

Bottom line

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?

  1. Video recorders I hope never fly. What a sick idea. Pilots will not fly their best. Guaranteed Don’t make pilots fly scared. We ar winder enough pressure

  2. What privacy and security issues? There are already voice recorders in the cockpit so unless pilots are having sex or something else, this would seem a non-issue.

  3. Ben

    Should we tape you in your last seconds of your life before you tragically die on video so your loved ones can watch your death on the internet forever ?

    I hate to be so crude and blunt but I will never allow myself to be videotaped in the cockpit it’s bad enough when you listen to the audio of an accident.

    I know others will say its protected, so is audio, so why can I listen to some accidents on the internet.

  4. When I worked, I was either in the public eye or under video surveillance, which I had installed for staff safety.

    ALPA needs it’s head read (pronounced “red”).

  5. What would be the privacy concern? We might catch a pilot picking his nose? Or scratching his nuts? I mean, most of the recording is going to be the pilots talking and staring out the window (and we can already hear the talking part). Plus, the data would only be accessed if the plane were involved in a crash.

  6. @30wesi, the audio recordings never end up on the Internet, why would video be any different? Straw man much?

  7. @30wesi

    What a weird argument. There’s no reason why the video must be released to the public.

    While I get that there are privacy concerns, but we are talking about a company’s employee working within an (expensive) piece of company property, and responsible for hundreds of lives, and many more lives that can be saved if the relevant bodies could properly investigate crashes. I just don’t see why their right to privacy trumps all of that, while on the job.

    I wonder if the second 737 MAX crash would’ve been prevented if there were cockpit recordings of what occurred in the first crash.

  8. Hope they will add live-streaming on Twitch and Instagram. Even safer if hundreds of people can judge the pilot’s behavior ‘on-the-fly’.

  9. It’s interesting to see the union argue against it when CAE which provides initial training to pilots from airlines all over the world including American Airlines and JetBlue uses cameras in their single engine piston planes. You forget it is there very quickly so not sure about the comment that pilot’s wouldn’t fly their best.

    I would argue separately re the comment Ben made about shifting blame on to pilots, that for the most part that does seem to be a trend where accidents caused by pilot error are the largest percentage. I find that it’s a very wide net and in several cases ignores underlying system issues that cause pilots to make errors. For example, the Max which was initially blamed solely on the pilots for not knowing to switch off a system they didn’t know existed before only laterally focusing on underlying issues.

    My two cents anyway, I am sure others will disagree.

  10. For perspective: what about if operating rooms in hospitals were wired up with video recording, with the video footage only being pulled if there’s a post-operative complication.

    Would we expect nothing to change as far as how surgeons perform? Or would they do better? worse?

  11. @Simon

    Bad argument. The general reason why videos are generally not recorded in the OR is because of patient confidentiality, not the surgeon’s.

  12. I couldn’t imagine that videos of people acting under extreme stress during life and death situations where they have to make a split second decision which might result in a bad outcome would somehow be misinterpreted or cause tremendous public backlash. That doesn’t happen in our society at all. No way. Everyone will be 100% rational and wait for all of the facts to come in and give the benefit of the doubt to those having to make those tough decisions.

    And the lawyers and families of the people on board and the public won’t absolutely demand to see those videos or have them made public. And if they aren’t made public, all of those families will 100% honor any FAA nondisclosure agreements and never discuss what they saw on the videos.

  13. TSA could do this by itself. Requiring image recording makes sense under the Federal Flight Deck Officer program. FFDOs are authorized by TSA to carry a weapon and use lethal force to defend the cockpit. When pilots act as an FFDO, they act, under color of law, as federal law enforcement.

    The argument for would be the similar, though on a different scale, to police wearing body cameras. The limiting principle would restrict installing/activating the devices on aircraft/flights operated by an FFDO.

    Interesting to ponder industry reaction, potentially penalizing staff participating in the FFDO program and scheduling concerns. Wouldn’t be the first time DoT has tried to push a regulatory action onto TSA (they tried with lithium batteries).

  14. Rui says: “30wesi, the audio recordings never end up on the Internet, why would video be any different? Straw man much?”

    Uh, what? Lack of Google much?

  15. As an ex-airline pilot, a lawyer, and a member of the International Society of Air Safety Investigators, I can see all sides of the argument. In my first capacity, I would have definitely resisted this move and supported the union as would have virtually the whole of ALPA membership. In my second capacity, specifically as a former practitioner in the field of aviation accident law, I would be forced to admit that a carefully curated cockpit video would be of immeasurable help in perfecting our understanding of otherwise imperfectly understood incidents and accidents. As a former air safety specialist, I can see the arguments in favor of this improvement, especially if the camera view would would be much like the view presented with your story, where only pilot overhead and forward switch actions and throttle quadrant manipulations, would be subjec to video review. I think this would be a good compromise serving the interest of aviation safety while infringing privacy to only a modest degree.

  16. This is a red herring. More information about flight events definitely needs to be collected but the highest concern is that the current data is not always available.

    Given the availability of internet communications globally there is no excuse for not having all flight recorded data uploaded to the cloud at all times. Satellite communication covers almost every part of the globe.

    The problem with the “black boxes” is that unless they are found there is no record of what happened in flight. Recent examples of missing aircraft (Malaysia Airlines) or aircraft shot down by hostile regimes (Iran/Russian forces) who either do not have or refuse to release the flight data shows how important this is.

    Forget about a camera in the cockpit. That’s just dumb and is deflecting from the fact that data is not being properly collected in the first place.

    Once all data is properly collected then maybe it is time to look at what else is required – not as an alternative to doing the proper collection in the first place.

  17. I think the idea of having a full video/image recording system in a cockpit could be beneficial, but also could be a major security concern should it ever get hacked or jeprodized. It’ll be interesting to see if it ever gets mandated.

  18. How would you all perform if your employer was video taping you ? Aside from what many think pilots are a professional group. There is no issue in this country with safety. How many people in the passed 10 years are dead or injured due to pilot error. Shame on all of you for wanting us to have even more stress for nothing.

  19. Ryan, our employers already record everything we say. Do you get stressed because of that? If the camera is behind you focused on the controls, will you even be thinking about it?

    Not once have I ever considered the voice recorder when I am doing my job, I didn’t consider the camera in the training aircraft except when I hit my head on it climbing out of the PA28 (likely not going to be a problem on an airliner). Given the lack of crashes amongst cadet pilots, it suggests that the cameras do not have a negative effect on performance.

    I really don’t have a preference either way on these but I think you might be over egging how much stress this would cause a crew composed in your words from a professional group…

  20. Guys let’s be honest here, all phone calls at AA’s call centers are recordedbut that hasn’t stopped all those agents from being rude and incompetent

  21. The fact is pilot error is the leading cause of 80% of commercial airlines crashes. All arguments against video recordings in cockpits and comparisons listed above are pretty silly. A whole lot of employees are video recorded at work. I just checked-in at a Holiday Inn and there was a camera right on top of the agent. Neither he nor I were freaking out about it. And neither were our privacy rights infringed in any way by the video surveillance. Yeah, recording surgeons: he or she messes up ONE person may die; a pilot messes up THOUSANDS can die. Sorry, but the public interest in finding out the cause of airline accidents and preventing future ones thus potentially saving thousands of lives FAR, FAR outweighs the sensitivities of a pair of pilots.

  22. Video cameras hopefully will NEVER see this inside of a flight deck. EJC… You would be the first airline pilot I have ever spoken to that agrees with this. They will not increase safety and they will decrease it. Yes, knowing a camera is behind you watching you would make MANY uneasy and may even alter their normal speed and flow of decision making knowing they aren’t just being listened to but watched on camera. It is a little different than working at a hotel front desk. What is there to see? You can hear and you have an FDR to record our actions.

  23. Every bank has video recording, every gas station, every airport TSA, every major highway in a city, every city bus and every major store has video recording. The pilots on most new long haul aircraft have video cameras outside the cockpit where the pilots can watch first class pax and flight attendants enter and leave the lavatory. There is no reason to expect privacy in the cockpit of an airplane.

  24. Considering that video cameras have been installed on a lot of busses, I really don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t apply to planes.

  25. Not a pilot but can’t see why they wouldn’t help in case of an incident. Also not sure why with the current technology there are not cameras which are on the outside of the aircraft which could show the pilots key areas of the plane that can’t be seen from the cabin like if they were getting messages about the landing gear being down or a control surface stuck in a position or missing.

  26. As a point of comparison, many public buses have cameras installed that point to the driver (or at least have the driver within its viewing angle) and also many trains have a camera in the cab pointed at the conductor and/or the controls. They seem to be able to perform their jobs just fine.

  27. More American BS about their sense of privacy and freedom. Unless you have something to hide, you would have no issue with the investigative tools should another hijacking or product error. You are either hiding something or you are a screw up and don’t want to get caught.

  28. Wait for Amazon Airlines (sic), they will surely push it through.

    It is a trend of the future (horrible) as they proposed to monitor not only video footage but body sign monitors of their employees. The fact Amazon just beat unionizing in Alabama shows they are unstoppable.

  29. Ryan, as I said, I don’t have particularly strong feelings either way. What I will say that you haven’t addressed, is that I have been recorded whilst flying during my training and all American Airlines and JetBlue cadets through CAE have too and that does not lead to a less safe environment. It does not have impact on decision making. You just focus on flying the plane as always, just as I have never decided to do something because my voice is being recorded. I don’t personally understand how there is a difference in your mind between the video and audio, you’re already being recorded on the flight deck. Do you read and action the checklist slower because you’re being recorded? Your last note seems to suggest flows will slow if filmed. Do the cabin crew in the galley change their behaviour because there is a camera there?

    As I said, I do not have strong feelings either way but I think the arguments you put forward and not particularly strong against them because it focuses on people being hypothetically aware of them and changing their behaviour because of them but that they don’t when they are on the CVR and telematics.

  30. Part 121 should have an addition like the Flight Data Monitoring Systems of Part 135.607 and the requirement should be for all 121 and 135 aircraft not just air ambulance. This is the best way to know what happened in an accident. For goodness sake it’s still a reactive after the fact action to try to understand what happened and also prevent a future accident but there are privacy issues? Anyone can film and distribute anything nowadays. We are filmed in most stores and businesses. Finding out why people died is important. There is a 2005 report from the IHST by Roy Fox (Bell Helicopter Safety) that says in the summary:
    “The largest single potential area to make significant improvement in safety is in understanding what went on in the cockpit of each accident helicopter. Once we can document the cockpit information and sequence, we can finally understand and aggressively attack those accident causes. A Cockpit Information Recorder (CIR) tied to a crash-survivable recorder can allow quicker, more complete, less costly accident investigations.” One solution is the Appareo Vision 1000. These are being installed in new helicopters at a reasonable cost.

  31. There’s inward facing cab cameras on almost all railroad locomotives now and reviewing these videos from either close calls or accidents has immeasurably improved the proactive prevention of future incidents. There was significant resistance from the unions but the wisest words I heard on it are “the footage will either exonerate or condemn you.” Engineers promptly forget the cameras were there and routine review of the footage reveals exactly what you’d expect… people going about their jobs professionally and occasionally picking their noses. There’s just no evidence whatsoever that this negatively impacted safety and there are significant parallels in the aviation and railroad industries.

  32. I have a better idea. Let’s videotape all board meetings and backroom political meetings. That would have done more to prevent the accidents with the 737 Max than any camera in the cockpits of those planes would ever had.

  33. To follow up I’ve got less than 10 years left and after 35 years of flying at airlines, it’s clear to me most on this thread have never been part of an aircraft accident investigation. Meaning the human remains, I have seen the left over results and I NEVER want to see it actually happen live on video, which it will. Internationally the laws are different so it can be a American Airline but the country the accident happens in will be who’s laws are followed, not all countries protect the black boxs’ from the public, that is why some accidents live audio can be heard on the internet.

    You all are looking at it from a point of view of when you walk into a bank or store you are recorded, except that is not when the NTSB/FAA are going to watch cockpit video on some average day , it will be when the pilots people die in a accident that is when they will pull the video. Mark my words if it ever happens it won’t be too many accidents later it will leak onto the internet for the world to watch and the surviving family members of the dead pilots to suffer.

    I’m glad I’m reaching the end of my career it was a great career I was very fortunate but people have changed over the last 35 years.

  34. I appreciate your sentiment. However, there is a strong case to be made that the accident investigational advantages provided by cockpit video should morally outweigh the risk of any unwanted, hurtful, and illlegal dissemination of videos. In a weighing process, which is what this is, if the gain of changed policy, considering all its drawbacks, still outweighs the benefits, whatever they may be, of the status quo, then the new policy deserves to be implemented, all else being equal–which I believe it is. (I too am a credentialed air accident investigator.)

  35. Good evening,

    my2Cents as an A320 jockey from Germany:
    Basically, I understand both sides of this argument. But all in all, there is not a real advantage in pictures of people fighting for their own lifes and the lifes of their passengers. The reasons for the crashes in Ethiopia and Texas were quickly solved and I do not understand what a video of people dying helps to find a solution for more safety on board a commercial passenger or cargo aircraft.

    So much pressure is already on pilots. For example Airbus: If you read the FCOM thoroughly, there are MANY grey areas where Airbus pushes the responsibility towards the cockpit crew. An earlier comment stated, that 80% of all crashes are produced by pilot error. First of all: The number is wrong, second: Why were pilots in a position to make bad choices? (Example: AeroPeru), third: How many accidents have been prevented by pilot actions?
    Believe me, I wouldn‘t trust the computers much, I know how often they fail in daily life.

    Anyway, video cameras won‘t bring better clarity to accidents. More data would, though! Data like: When has a button been pushed, satellite data or engine data.

    How about we also put cameras on leading persons? They decide a LOT more then pilots do. How about cameras on politicians, CFOs, CEOs amd lawyers when they meet in the backoffice or for dinner? If they lead with being filmed while they are -leading countries and companies and are responsible for millions of people, I would personally install a camera in my cockpit. 🙂

    But at the end of the day, I don’t like that everything is being filmed today. Everybody films everybody…yikes. Orwell was right with „1984“, maybe 50 years to early. We will slowly descent into a world with watchful eyes all around us, but we wont recognize it as such, like a goldfish put into a new fishtank.

    The problem is: We don’t trust each other anymore…. and that is the real problem.

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