U.S. agency urges cockpit video, better plane-tracking


The U.S. air accident investigation agency on Thursday urged adoption of systems to shoot cockpit video in the crucial minutes before a crash, and called for better tracking to find downed planes.

The agency also called for equipment to allow retrieval of critical black box flight data without an underwater search.

The recommendations from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board follow a string of accidents in which wreckage and black boxes were difficult or impossible to find, including Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which vanished last March.

They come as the industry and global regulators are working on new equipment standards, but have been stymied by disagreement over implementation and costs.
“Technology has reached a point where we shouldn’t have to search hundreds of miles of ocean floor in a frantic race to find these valuable boxes,” said Christopher Hart, acting chairman of the NTSB. In an age when Google maps and smartphones can track locations easily, “lost aircraft should be a thing of the past.”

The eight NTSB recommendations call for tracking systems to be tamper-resistant and able to broadcast data to pinpoint the location of a crash to within six nautical miles of impact. Some current systems broadcast only every 10 minutes, creating a potential 40 nautical mile radius search area, the NTSB said.

Cockpit image recorders, which the NTSB has recommended before, could show the status of cockpit instruments prior to a crash, helping piece together what went wrong, the NTSB said.

The U.S.-based Air Line Pilots Association, the world’s largest pilot union, said cockpit video would not improve safety.

Efforts should be aimed at recording data of “higher quality as opposed to video images, which are subject to misinterpretation and may in fact lead investigators away from accurate conclusions,” ALPA President Capt. Tim Canoll said in a statement.

Current black boxes consist of a flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, and the NTSB recommended that these should be upgraded to send out locator pings for 90 days following a crash, instead of the current 30-day standard.

They also should be protected from being disabled.

Black boxes also should have a “means of recovery” that doesn’t require underwater search, the NTSB said. The industry is debating using ejectable black boxes or streaming black box data wirelessly from the cockpit. Ejectables have raised concerns about malfunctions, and streaming the data has raised privacy concerns.