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Cockpit Video Cameras

The National Transportation Board has recommended to the Federal Aviation Administration that all FAR Part 121, 125, and 135 passenger-carrying aircraft be equipped with cockpit video recorders, cockpit voice recorders and digital flight data recorders (Rimmer, 2000). The use of flight data information has been very useful to the National Transportation Safety Board for solving countless aircraft accidents and mishaps.

The recent surge for the upgraded equipment, especially the cockpit video recorders, stems from the crashes of ValuJet Flight 592 in the Florida Everglades, Swissair Flight 111, which crashed off the coast of Halifax, and more recently the EgyptAir 990 crash (Safety Board Favors Cameras For Cockpits, 2000). The current equipment used in the aircraft today is the Cockpit Voice Recorder and the Flight Data Recorder. The cockpit voice recorder records the radio transmissions between the pilots and the air traffic controllers who guide the planes to their designated areas in the air and on the ground.

The cockpit voice recorder also records the sounds inside the cockpit between pilots, stall warning signals, engine noise, landing gear extension and retraction, weather briefs, and any other abnormal noises (Barker, 1999). The flight data recorder monitors certain parameters of the actual airplane such as the altitude, airspeed, compass heading, vertical acceleration and time (Maharry, 2000). The National Transportation Safety Board wants to upgrade existing flight data recorders and implement cockpit video recorders for safety reasons and to help solve commercial airline crashes.

The airline pilots are against the idea of the cockpit recorders due to the fact that they will be on camera at all times and feel that this is a breach of privacy and the film could be leaked to the media (Sher, 2000). The National Transportation Safety Board has cited that with the help of the cockpit video recorders accidents can be solved more quickly (Safety Board Favors Cameras For Cockpits, 2000). Pilots oppose the use of the cameras stating that it is a breach of privacy into the pilots workspace (Sher, 2000).

Unions such as the Air Line Pilots Association think very much the same as the pilots do. The unions think that todays technology is sufficient enough so that cockpit video recorders are not necessary (Mann, 2000). The victims and the lawyers representing the victims want to be active participants in the National Transportation Safety Board investigation (Richfield, 2000). The upgrades and the cockpit video recorders can be beneficial to the airlines themselves. The cockpit video recorders may determine if there were flaws in the manufacturing of the aircraft or pilot error.

The passengers who board the aircraft everyday will stand to benefit from the information emotionally and economically; confidence in the government to solve these issues is paramount (Hall, 1999). The National Transportation Safety Board wants the cameras to show the whole cockpit to include all crewmembers. The NTSB has stated that the faces of the pilots will not be necessary in the implementation of the video cameras. Two hours of color video will be in constant use in the cockpits.

The cameras need to be color due to the color coordination of some of the flight screens in the cockpit. The use of the camera can show the actual settings of the instruments also. The video can be compared to what the flight data recorder indicates. This information can be critical if both recordings show different readings (Safety Board Calls For Cameras In The Cockpit, 2000). The National Transportation Safety Board has indicated that the circuit breaker to the camera will be inaccessible to any of the crew during flight.

This decision arises from the idea that the pilot from SilkAir737 pulled the circuit breaker to the flight data recorder before allegedly crashing the plane. (Safety Board Calls For Cameras In The Cockpit, 2000). The National Transportation Safety Board, along with taxpayers, will also be affected economically with the implementation of the recorders. Currently, the National Transportation Safety Board has spent more than 13 million dollars and 2,400 workdays trying to solve the crash of EgyptAir 990.

Economic projections for this crash may run as high as 17 million dollars before the investigation is either solved or unsolved (Mann, 2000). The pilots of the airlines are concerned that the actual cockpit video recordings might be leaked to the public. Images such as these would then be put on tabloid television for the world to see (Sher, 2000). Pilots are also concerned that the flight data may or will be used against them in court. The pilots also think that the information may be used against them by the airlines to impose disciplinary actions (Richfield, 2000).

In March 2000, a New Zealand pilot was charged with manslaughter for killing four people on his aircraft. Pilots view the video recorders as an infringement on their privacy in their workplace (Bill, 2000). A United DC-9 pilot was quoted as saying, “It’ll be just like the old Soviet Union, with Big Brother watching you,” (Carley, 2000). The cockpit is their office and pilots think that the camera is being unjustly used to monitor their actions (Bill, 2000). Unions such as the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) think the usefulness of the camera is over-rated.

With todays modern technology, the upgrades to existing recorders and the implementation of Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA) program should provide enough information for safety purposes (Mann, 2000). The Flight Operations Quality Assurance program is designed so that the flight data information is saved to disk therefore capturing all information instead of the minimal recording time mandated by Federal Aviation Administration. The disk is then downloaded at the headquarters of that particular airline for review.

The computer then reads all the information from the disk and captures any readings that are out of character for the flight, thereby isolating any problems with the pilots actions or the aircraft itself. (Maharry, 2000). The Air Line Pilots Association also wants a law in place to bar the release of information on the video data recorders (Lieb, 2000). The victims and the lawyers representing the families of the victims of these tragic accidents want all flight data to be accessible so that the information can be used in a court of law.

It is the perception of the lawyers and victims that the government is providing a secure and sheltered environment for the airline industry on these issues (Richfield, 2000). The airline organizations and designers can use the information retrieved in the wreckage to identify exactly what happened in those last few minutes in a different way. The data analyzed can determine if there was a flaw in the design of the aircraft. Information such as this, if it can be determined, can help to fix other aircraft immediately before another mishap occurs.

These findings can also help redesign new aircraft that may be sitting on the assembly line or in the development stage. The information can be very helpful to determine that mechanical failure did not cause the demise of the airplane. This information can then be used to see if pilot error was the factor (Hall, 1999). The frequent flying customers as well as the very reluctant flyer will benefit from the accurate data collected. First, several accidents have been averted due to the information that is already being collected by the recorders.

The information that has been collected and analyzed has averted serious injury and countless lives have been saved due to data recorders already in place. The passengers peace of mind is priceless, knowing that he/she is flying in a safe airplane. Second, society is protected economically also. The prevention of accidents reduces the cost of insurance for the airlines and the passengers tickets. Medical costs and other government costs are also reduced due to the efforts of effective data recorders. It has also benefited the court systems by avoiding long, expensive litigation lawsuit.

How many more lawsuits can be avoided due to more accurate data recorders? Third, the confidence level in the government to solve the accidents would increase. When the investigation team can determine the exact cause of an accident, few questions go unanswered. This in return will boost the integrity of the transportation system (Hall, 1999). James Hall, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman, has assured lawmakers that the same rules and guidelines will mandate the video recorders, as far as viewing, as the cockpit voice recorder (Mann, 2000).

The National Transportation Safety Board does release transcripts of the voice recordings, but are prohibited by law to release the actual recordings of the voice recorders (Carley, 2000). Duane Woerth, President of the Airlines Pilots Association, stated that the protection already in place is not sufficient enough to protect the recordings. There were several instances where the news has received actual voice recordings and used them for the world to listen (Mann, 2000). Flight Operations Quality Assurance does not require an accident to happen in order for information to be obtained.

The data collected before an accident is used for decision making base on the analysis and data collected. The information collected because of FOQA gives airlines a good indication of how effective the training and flight procedures are for their pilots (Frenzel, 2000). Organizations that use the Flight Operations Quality Assurance programs fear that the information being collected can be used against them in criminal cases. If a pilot feels that the information being collected can be used against him/her, he/she will not want to participate in the program (Maharry, 2000).

How many cameras should be used in the cockpit? Duncan Schofield, manager of flight-recorder engineering at Honeywell International Inc. , a maker of aircraft instruments stated that three cameras would be sufficient to cover all aspects in the cockpit. One camera will be used to get the readings of the instruments in front of the pilots, one for the instruments above the pilots, and one for the cockpit to get a general idea of what the pilots are doing (Carley, 2000). Will the video boxes be able to survive the crash? Recorders must be crash proof so that the essential information in the boxes is safe.

The criteria for the boxes are as follows: Able to withstand the impact of 3,400 Gs. This is the equivalent to an object coming to a dead stop traveling 360 miles per hour. It must be crush proof to withstand 5,000 pounds of force for five minutes. They must also be able to be protected against punctures to the box. It must be fire proof, able to withstand temperatures up to 2,000 degrees for 30 minutes. It must be heat proof, able to withstand heat up to 500 degrees for ten hours. It must be waterproof, able to last for thirty days under water at depths of 20,000 feet.

It must be corrosion proof, so it may last at least 30 days in a body of water. It must be gunk proof also, able to survive 48 hours in submersed in oil, fuel, hydraulic fluid, grease, and extinguishing agent (Maharry, 2000). Data recorders play such an integral role in the safety of commercial airlines. Since the National Transportation Safety Board is the watchdog for all airline industries, they increasingly want to upgrade and implement new recorders in the name of safety. Many people and organizations are still at odds whether the video recorders will be beneficial to help with safety and solve airline crashes.

With more aircraft in the skies, the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board will continue to make advances in data collection for many years to come. In recent years, the air transportation industry and the federal government have spent a significant amount of effort and money on different programs to make our skies safer. Some examples of these efforts include the DOT Aviation Safety Action Plan, the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security, the National Civil Aviation Review Commission, and the FAA Safer Skies Initiative.

These efforts have identified the most important issues affecting air safety. These programs advocate a strong industry focus on risk management and an aggressive, proactive safety program. The current industry thrust is to provide the air transportation industry with the tools to detect & remedy the unsafe and undesirable trends that will eventually result in accidents, and thereby prevent the next accident without having to wait for an aircraft to fall out of the sky. When it comes to improving air safety, cockpit video recorders are not the answer.

The cameras can continue to be used in a training capacity. Airline companies use the cameras to assess students, which provide the student and instructor with instant feedback on positive and negative aspects of their training. A lot can be learned by using the camera in this function to ensure training is efficient and effective. Today’s state of the art technology is so advanced and becoming more and more advanced that the National Transportation Safety Board can make accurate assessments on the demise of almost, but not all crash.

Flight Data Recorders (FDRs) in the latest versions of transport aircraft typically record more than a hundred different parameters. Enhanced recording technology, combined with proactive air safety programs such as FOQA, will help the NTSB to accurately identify airplane or pilot system deficiencies. This in return will continue to keep our skies safe and friendly into the next century.

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