FAA proposes new black box rules
By LESLIE MILLER
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
WASHINGTON -- The black boxes that record events leading up to aircraft crashes must hold more data and have a more reliable power supply under a plan outlined Thursday by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Federal safety regulators have long urged the FAA to adopt stricter requirements for the black boxes after the devices failed to yield useful information during the investigations of several fatal airliner accidents, including the 1998 crash of Swissair Flight 111 off the coast of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the 1999 crash of Egyptair Flight 990 off the Nantucket coast.
"Good data is often the Rosetta Stone to deciphering what happened in an aircraft incident and what could happen in an accident," said FAA Administrator Marion Blakey.
The new rules require cockpit voice recorders, which record pilots' conversations, to retain at least two hours of audio and have a 10-minute backup power source. They are now only required to record 15 to 30 minutes of sound and don't have to have backup power.
Flight data recorders, which record the movement of cockpit controls, must sample data more often. Now, they have to measure data every second; the proposal would require sampling every 1/16th of a second.
Pilots are concerned that the data will be misused:
Update 1: FAA Outlines New Aircraft Black Box Rules
02.24.2005, 03:08 PM
The black boxes key to determining the causes of aircraft crashes will have to hold more data and have a more reliable power supply under a plan outlined Thursday by the Federal Aviation Administration.
However, the FAA rejected a recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board that aircraft be required to have video cameras in the cockpit. Some pilots have expressed concerns about invasion of privacy and said the constant presence of a camera could make it harder to do their jobs.
The NTSB, which investigates crashes, has long urged the FAA to adopt stricter requirements for the boxes. Safety investigators have cited the boxes' failure to yield useful information about several fatal airliner accidents, including the 1998 crash of Swissair Flight 111 off the coast of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the 1999 crash of Egyptair Flight 990 off the Massachusetts coast.
In those two accidents, the black boxes shut off before the planes crashed.
The new rules would require cockpit voice recorders, which record pilots' conversations, to retain at least two hours of audio and have a 10-minute backup power source. They are now only required to record 15 to 30 minutes of sound and don't have to have backup power.
Cockpit voice recorders that use magnetic tape would no longer be permitted because they're not as reliable as digital recorders and more vulnerable to damage.
Flight data recorders, which record the movement of cockpit controls, would sample data more often and retain 25 hours of information. Now, they have to measure data every second in airplanes; the proposal would require sampling every 1/16th of a second. For helicopters, they will have to sample four times a second rather than the two times per second now permitted.
"Good data is often the Rosetta stone to deciphering what happened in an aircraft incident and what could happen in an accident," FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said.
The public will have a chance to comment on the proposal, which is expected to take effect by the end of next year.
The FAA estimates the new rules will apply to about 9,600 aircraft with 10 or more seats and cost the aviation industry $256 million.
New aircraft must have black boxes - which are actually orange - that meet the new standards two years after the rule is in force.
Aircraft operators must retrofit existing planes with cockpit voice recorders that meet the standard four years after the rule takes effect.
John Hickey, the FAA's director of aircraft certification, said the FAA isn't proposing to retrofit aircraft with new flight data recorders because the vast majority already meet the rule's requirements.
The pilots' largest union said in a statement that it welcomed the changes but wanted the FAA to set stronger standards for protecting flight data. Pilots are concerned that cockpit voice recordings are used for purposes other than enhancing aviation safety - such as litigation or disciplinary action.
"We know that recorded safety information has been misused and abused in the past and that these practices continue today," said Terry McVenes, executive air safety chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association, International.
National Transportation Safety Board
Washington, DC 20594
February 24, 2005
STATEMENT BY NTSB CHAIRMAN ON
PROPOSED FAA FLIGHT RECORDER RULES
National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Ellen
Engleman Conners issued the following statement in reaction
to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released today by the
Federal Aviation Administration changing current regulations
dealing with flight recorders on aircraft.
"Flight recorders have proven to be such vital tools
in aviation accident investigation that a number of open
recommendations focused on improving these devices have been
on our Most Wanted list of safety improvements since 1997.
"The FAA's proposed rule is addressed primarily to
flight recorder deficiencies pointed out by the NTSB when it
assisted the Canadian Transportation Safety Board in the
investigation of the crash of SwissAir Flight 111 in 1998.
We will carefully review the proposed rule to see whether
those concerns have been addressed. I can say that I am
gratified that the proposed rule will expand the cockpit
voice recorder requirement from 30 minutes to 2 hours, and
that independent power supplies will be required to prevent
the loss of data if power to the recorder is interrupted
during the crash sequence, as occurred on SwissAir.
"The NTSB hopes that the FAA will address several of
its other crucial flight recorder recommendations that are
still on the Most Wanted List. The Board urges the FAA to
act swiftly to rectify the unacceptable FDR data sampling
and filtering issues that impeded the investigation of the
Airbus A-300-600 involved in the American Airlines Flight
587 accident. Similar data sampling issues also affect the
popular regional jet aircraft. The installation of cockpit
image recorders, as recommended by the Board, would also
assist in the investigations of both larger transport
category aircraft and smaller for-hire turbine powered
aircraft that may not have any existing safety recorders
I agree with the NTSB, I think video cameras should be required in the cockpit of commercial airliners.
FAA Orders Upgrade for Cockpit Black Boxes
By Sara Kehaulani Goo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 25, 2005; Page E02
The Federal Aviation Administration yesterday said it will force airlines and aircraft manufacturers to upgrade their cockpit and flight data recorders, known as "black boxes," to help accident investigators better determine the cause of crashes.
Aircraft manufacturers and air carriers must install new cockpit voice recorders that will record two hours of audio from the flight crew, instead of the current 15 to 30 minutes, according to the proposed rule. Airplanes would also need to have an independent, 10-minute backup power source for the recorders in the event the plane loses power.
The rule is not expected to become final until the end of 2006. Aircraft manufacturers then would be required to install new recorders by 2008, and air carriers would have until 2010 to retrofit their fleets. The upgrades are expected to cost airlines and manufacturers between $256 million and $420 million over 20 years, according to the FAA.
FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey said the announcement yesterday was "a turning point in aviation safety," even as the industry is experiencing its safest three-year period in history.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates airplane accidents, has recommended since 1997 that the FAA require updated black boxes after finding that a number of deadly crashes had cockpit- and flight-data recorders that contained only partially useful information or stopped working when the plane's power shut down.
For example, investigators were able to glean only 31 minutes of audio from the cockpit voice recorder of Alaska Airlines Flight 261, which crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 2000, killing all 83 passengers and five crew members. At the beginning of the recording, the flight crew members were already discussing a problem with the plane's horizontal stabilizer, which was later blamed for the crash.
The NTSB said the FAA's proposal would primarily address problems in the investigation of the 1998 crash of SwissAir Flight 111, which was caused by an electrical fire. Both recorders stopped working six minutes before the plane crashed into the ocean near Nova Scotia.
NTSB Chairman Ellen Engleman Conners said she was "gratified" by the FAA's actions. "The NTSB hopes that the FAA will address several of its other crucial flight recorder recommendations that are still on the most-wanted list," she said, citing data-recorder sampling and filtering problems that hampered the investigation of American Airlines Flight 587 in 2001.
Manufacturers Boeing and Airbus said they need more time to review the rule before commenting. A Boeing spokeswoman said it has offered two-hour cockpit voice recorders to air carrier customers as an option for 10 years.
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