FAA Proposes Cockpit Voice Recorder 25-Hour Extension

FAA Proposes Cockpit Voice Recorder 25-Hour Extension

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Regulators are proposing a common sense change that would make it easier to investigate aircraft incidents (and in turn, make flying safer), but I imagine this won’t be without controversy. While this was discussed earlier in the year, it’s now closer to becoming a reality.

Cockpit voice recorder to increase from two to 25 hours

One of the reasons that aviation is so safe is because we learn so much from every incident to prevent something similar from happening in the future. This is largely thanks to flight data recorders (which paint a picture of the aircraft’s performance prior to an incident) and cockpit voice recorders (so that investigators can hear what the communication was like in the cockpit prior to an incident).

One major challenge with cockpit voice recorders is that they only record for two hours. If you have an accident and the plane can’t fly again, then you have the last two hours of communication. Meanwhile if an incident occurs but the plane can still fly, that data will pretty quickly disappear.

Along those lines, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has formally proposed extending the cockpit voice recording requirement to 25 hours for all newly manufactured aircraft.

The FAA is pledging to take action on this issue following the Safety Summit in March 2023, during which more than 200 safety leaders met to discuss ways to enhance flight safety. As FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker explains, “this rule will give us substantially more data to identify the causes of incidents and help prevent them in the future.”

If the rule change is approved, this would align regulations in the United States with regulations set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

The proposed rule is scheduled to publish in the Federal Register on December 4, 2023, and the public will then have 60 days to comment on this proposal.

In the past year, we’ve seen several close calls at airlines, including some runway incursions. Unfortunately the cockpit voice recorders aren’t available for any of those recent incidents, given that more than two hours passed before recordings could be retrieved. Regulators say that there have been over a dozen incidents since 2003 where investigators would have benefited from being able to hear recordings, but couldn’t, due to the two hour limit.

This seems like a common sense rule change

This is getting pushback from some pilots

To me this seems like a common sense change. If we agree that a cockpit voice recorder contains useful information, then isn’t it more useful to be able to hear what happened for a longer period of time? Many incidents aren’t reported immediately, or happen at the beginning of the flight, so the data never gets recovered.

For example, when an American 777 recently taxied onto an active runway at JFK and caused a near disaster, the conversation in the cockpit couldn’t be recovered, since the aircraft continued its flight. Furthermore, the pilots weren’t exactly been cooperative in complying with what regulators had asked.

This change is getting some pushback from unions representing pilots, specifically surrounding privacy. For example, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the largest union representing pilots, has expressed the following concerns:

“Current law requires the NTSB to protect the privacy of the data contained on the flight deck voice recordings, but does not prevent airlines or others from disclosing that information, and additional safeguards need to be put into place to keep them from doing so. The pilot community does have concerns about whether the information could be publicly released.”

I find this argument to be a little strange:

  • Why would an airline release the transcripts of cockpit voice recorders publicly?
  • Pilots are very well paid professionals flying aircraft worth $100+ million, with hundreds of lives in their hands, and they have specific procedures to follow; just as police officers have body cameras, it’s useful to be able to get a full picture of what happened when things do go wrong
  • I see some pilots essentially arguing that aviation in the United States is so safe, and we don’t need any changes to these procedures; pilots also often argue that we need changes to crew rest rules surrounding fatigue, so should we dismiss those concerns because flying is already so safe, and there’s no need to improve?

Honestly, I think it’s pretty clear why some pilots object to this — if things do go wrong, they don’t want investigators being able to listen to what they were saying leading up to the incident. While most pilots are professionals and do a great job keeping us safe, transcripts from cockpit voice recorders often have some shocking conversations.

But understanding the mindset of what pilots were talking about and how their communication was throughout a flight can also help improve aviation safety when things do go wrong.

Many pilots oppose this rule change

Bottom line

The FAA finally plans to pursue increasing the recording period for the cockpit voice recorder from two hours to 25 hours. This follows a series of scary incidents, where being able to analyze the cockpit voice recorder would have been useful.

While we’ve seen this proposed in the past, the FAA chose not to pursue it up until now. A public commenting period is about to open, and it’s going to be very interesting to see what kind of feedback the FAA gets.

What do you make of the recording period for the cockpit voice recorder being extended?

Conversations (27)
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  1. Klaus_S New Member

    The 737MAX9 incident is yet another example where investigators are quite frustrated because the voice recorder is overwritten…they were hoping to hear some rattling sounds before the “door” fell off but without a recording it will be difficult

  2. Luke dawson Guest

    ALPA will quash it. Invasion of privacy.

  3. Ira N. Guest

    I understand the push back by pilots.
    Spending many hours with someone means that you will have some conversations which are not work related and could be misused against the pilots.
    I think a compromise of longer recording times and stricter rules as to when they can be listened to would be best for all.

  4. Passenger Harry Guest

    A standard day of moderately compressed voice recording should take up about 0.75 gigabytes of data (less if more aggressive compression is used, at the expense of longer processing time). A 1 terabyte SSD costs about $50, enough to store 4 years worth of conversations. There is no reason why the cockpit shouldn’t have an “always on” recording system for all incoming, outgoing, and internal communication. It would be cheap and easy to implement, since...

    A standard day of moderately compressed voice recording should take up about 0.75 gigabytes of data (less if more aggressive compression is used, at the expense of longer processing time). A 1 terabyte SSD costs about $50, enough to store 4 years worth of conversations. There is no reason why the cockpit shouldn’t have an “always on” recording system for all incoming, outgoing, and internal communication. It would be cheap and easy to implement, since the ability to do so is already in place.

  5. Rotate Guest

    45 days for ATC. Helps us when stuff isn't reported in a timely fashion.

  6. Joe Traveler Guest

    In my opinion this is long overdue. I need only point to the Northwest flight from San Diego to Minneapolis ~14 years go that overflew it's destination by ~150 miles. Any casual observer knew right away the pilots continued flying to overwrite the portion of the cockpit voice recorder that would've told the full story.

    While I understand some of ALPA's concerns, it also feels like they're closing ranks to protect their members (and the...

    In my opinion this is long overdue. I need only point to the Northwest flight from San Diego to Minneapolis ~14 years go that overflew it's destination by ~150 miles. Any casual observer knew right away the pilots continued flying to overwrite the portion of the cockpit voice recorder that would've told the full story.

    While I understand some of ALPA's concerns, it also feels like they're closing ranks to protect their members (and the dues they pay) at the risk of safety. This is not the image I think they want to present to the flying public.

  7. Paper Boarding Pass Guest

    Something that contributes to the confusion at JFK are the endless taxi ways left over from prior extensions and retro fits of runways. Look at a plot of JFK and u see what looks like spaghetti. And the controllers at JFK have a reputation that proceeds them.

  8. TravelCat2 Diamond

    The argument that this change would increase the likelihood of recordings being released to the public is bogus. Why would changing the recordings duration impact decisions to release the recordings? Wouldn't these decisions operate under the same set of rules regardless of recording length?

  9. ted poco Guest

    Most fast food and bank employees are recorded and the tapes are kept more then a day. If pilots don’t like it they can get another job.

  10. Tim Dunn Diamond

    This absolutely makes all kinds of sense and Ben is absolutely right to post incidents including when an AA aircraft incorrect taxied in front of a DL 737 on its takeoff roll at JFK. After that incident, AA's union kicked and screamed to protect the AA pilots on that aircraft that continued their flight.
    Nobody wants accountability until it is forced on them but it is more than telling that the rest of the...

    This absolutely makes all kinds of sense and Ben is absolutely right to post incidents including when an AA aircraft incorrect taxied in front of a DL 737 on its takeoff roll at JFK. After that incident, AA's union kicked and screamed to protect the AA pilots on that aircraft that continued their flight.
    Nobody wants accountability until it is forced on them but it is more than telling that the rest of the world already sees the necessity of having 25 years of CVR data.
    The real solution is to have voice and data recordings transmitted to satellites and retained forever but we'll get there in baby steps.

  11. SMR Guest

    @Lucky. Why would the American 777 JFK incident mattered. Pilots don’t have to stop the recorder if there wasn’t an accident… soo it wouldn’t be available anyway. Shows how clueless the media is. You post aweome stuff about first class travel and points. Why the is this CNN now ?

    1. ConcordeBoy Diamond

      Pilots don't "stop the recorder," and airlines can/do pull the tapes for numerous reasons beyond physical accidents.

      Why would you admonish anyone else, when you (clearly) have so little idea of how any of this works??

    2. SMR Guest

      Some aircraft you have to pull the breaker after a flight if there was no G force to automatically stop it. Airbus I know it does automatically stop after engine shutdown. I do not fly the 777 so I guess I cannot say for sure, but the recorder wouldn't have been collected in that specific case. It was an incursion and not an incident or accident.

  12. SMR Guest

    Lucky. Why is this a good change ? No one needs to hear a CVR from 25 hours before a crash. Huge invasion of privacy and 100% against. This is INSANE how the government can’t get clueless media to help its cause and make people think this is good. Name one accident or incident where the CVR needed a 25 hour look back.

    The lefties are begging for more government in our lives !!...

    Lucky. Why is this a good change ? No one needs to hear a CVR from 25 hours before a crash. Huge invasion of privacy and 100% against. This is INSANE how the government can’t get clueless media to help its cause and make people think this is good. Name one accident or incident where the CVR needed a 25 hour look back.

    The lefties are begging for more government in our lives !! Oh please keep us safe ! More TsA! More invasion of our basic rights and privacy. More vaccine commercials ! We need lots more government intrusion of our lives and work to help make the world a safer and better place.

    1. James Guest

      What a bizarre argument.

      There was an incident here and it would be useful to know what happened in the cockpit. If longer recordings allow that, so be it.

      Or maybe we should have no recordings at all of you’re worried about “privacy”.

      Trying to tie cockpit recordings to “vaccine commercials” and “invasion of our rights” is truly odd.

    2. SMR Guest

      Not at all. It is the general consensus that the government can continue to implement more policies and procedures to keep us safe. It is a false sense of security.

    3. Sam Guest

      Information bias on your end. Stick to the point & don't go off the rails if you actually want to be taken seriously.

    4. SMR Guest

      Fair enough. But I’m right :)

    5. Ole Guest

      So you thought about your point, formulated the statements in your head, typed them, reread for grammatical errors and not once you thought, may be this makes me sound stupid and I shouldn’t post it.

      If I were you, I’d worry about that over “loosing my privacy”.

    6. Pete Guest

      Invasion of privacy how?

      If you work in a bank, or a casino, or in any other number of places, you are under constant video surveillance everywhere except the bathroom. If you're visiting London the police can piece together your movements for an entire day, from the moment you step outside your hotel to the moment you return, and you'll also be under surveillance inside the public areas of the hotel too.

      The alternative...

      Invasion of privacy how?

      If you work in a bank, or a casino, or in any other number of places, you are under constant video surveillance everywhere except the bathroom. If you're visiting London the police can piece together your movements for an entire day, from the moment you step outside your hotel to the moment you return, and you'll also be under surveillance inside the public areas of the hotel too.

      The alternative to a recording device would be for all cockpit communications to be transmitted live via satellite to a central database.

    7. Dusty Guest

      What a gish gallop. The TSA being unaccountable and opaque even to its own parent department is a completely separate issue from cockpit recording. The old 2 hour limitation was entirely due to technological constraints, not any privacy concerns. If you're a commercial pilot, you're operating a machine that costs hundreds of millions of dollars and responsible for hundreds on human lives both in your aircraft and on the ground/in aircraft around you. You are...

      What a gish gallop. The TSA being unaccountable and opaque even to its own parent department is a completely separate issue from cockpit recording. The old 2 hour limitation was entirely due to technological constraints, not any privacy concerns. If you're a commercial pilot, you're operating a machine that costs hundreds of millions of dollars and responsible for hundreds on human lives both in your aircraft and on the ground/in aircraft around you. You are not entitled to privacy in the cockpit when you have that level of responsibility.

  13. Sean M. Diamond

    Pilots are not paid enough to have Big Brother listening to them all the time. Perhaps if they could opt-in to this program for an additional hourly payment? But

    1. Fred Guest

      $500-600k per year ain’t enough?

      Lol

    2. SMR Guest

      Love my job , can’t imagine doing anything else. But the pay you mentioned isn’t reality for most pilots until much later on in life. Captains after 12 years would make just over $300K. Well deserved. How many hours spent on red eyes ? How many times dodging thunderstorms with 40,000 foot tops. How many times dealing with bad weather in all the mountainous regions in Central / South America. Anyone who thinks pilots are...

      Love my job , can’t imagine doing anything else. But the pay you mentioned isn’t reality for most pilots until much later on in life. Captains after 12 years would make just over $300K. Well deserved. How many hours spent on red eyes ? How many times dodging thunderstorms with 40,000 foot tops. How many times dealing with bad weather in all the mountainous regions in Central / South America. Anyone who thinks pilots are over paid should be in flight training themselves.

    3. DXR Guest

      Big brother would only "listen in" when and incident/accident occurs. As a dispatcher, all of my work is retained for 90 days including every single phone call. Do I care, nope; but I do take a ton of notes and put them, and my thoughts, in the log of every flight just in case something comes up down the line since I probably won't remember what I was thinking.

      If anything long haul aircraft should...

      Big brother would only "listen in" when and incident/accident occurs. As a dispatcher, all of my work is retained for 90 days including every single phone call. Do I care, nope; but I do take a ton of notes and put them, and my thoughts, in the log of every flight just in case something comes up down the line since I probably won't remember what I was thinking.

      If anything long haul aircraft should have a recorder with a minimum of 20 hours due to the range and length this type of aircraft can fly.

    4. ImmortalSynn Guest

      "Pilots are not paid enough to have Big Brother listening to them all the time."

      What's that got to do with pay?

      In my line of work, every email I send and every phone call I make (both of which represent about 95% of my time in office) is logged, retained for years, and could be sent to the government at any moment. And I certainly don't make what these pilots make. Nor do I...

      "Pilots are not paid enough to have Big Brother listening to them all the time."

      What's that got to do with pay?

      In my line of work, every email I send and every phone call I make (both of which represent about 95% of my time in office) is logged, retained for years, and could be sent to the government at any moment. And I certainly don't make what these pilots make. Nor do I have hundreds of lives hanging on to my every decision, and my attention-span.

      So if it's benign enough for someone like me sitting in a stationary cubicle, why should it not apply to people controlling what's basically a 200 ton guided missile with seats and bathrooms aboard?

    5. Dgh Guest

      Based on your logic, since cops are paid way less than pilots, body cams should be optional as well?

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DXR Guest

Big brother would only "listen in" when and incident/accident occurs. As a dispatcher, all of my work is retained for 90 days including every single phone call. Do I care, nope; but I do take a ton of notes and put them, and my thoughts, in the log of every flight just in case something comes up down the line since I probably won't remember what I was thinking. If anything long haul aircraft should have a recorder with a minimum of 20 hours due to the range and length this type of aircraft can fly.

3
Tim Dunn Diamond

This absolutely makes all kinds of sense and Ben is absolutely right to post incidents including when an AA aircraft incorrect taxied in front of a DL 737 on its takeoff roll at JFK. After that incident, AA's union kicked and screamed to protect the AA pilots on that aircraft that continued their flight. Nobody wants accountability until it is forced on them but it is more than telling that the rest of the world already sees the necessity of having 25 years of CVR data. The real solution is to have voice and data recordings transmitted to satellites and retained forever but we'll get there in baby steps.

3
ImmortalSynn Guest

"Pilots are not paid enough to have Big Brother listening to them all the time." What's that got to do with pay? In my line of work, every email I send and every phone call I make (both of which represent about 95% of my time in office) is logged, retained for years, and could be sent to the government at any moment. And I certainly don't make what these pilots make. Nor do I have hundreds of lives hanging on to my every decision, and my attention-span. So if it's benign enough for someone like me sitting in a stationary cubicle, why should it not apply to people controlling what's basically a 200 ton guided missile with seats and bathrooms aboard?

2
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