The Federal Aviation Administration has moved to extend the timeframe required for cockpit voice recordings to be retained in light of numerous recent incidents of serious runway incursions in the US.
The move comes a day after the FAA held a “Safety Summit” in Washington, DC, which was designed to “examine additional actions the aviation community should take to maintain its safety record.” Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen had called the summit following several incidents during which planes came dangerously close while taking off and landing.
At the March 15 event, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chairwoman Jennifer Homendy noted that the current FAA requirements (that 2 hours of recordings be retained) are insufficient.
Homendy said that six critical safety incidents this year involving large commercial aircraft “have one thing in common: the cockpit voice recorders were overwritten.”
NTSB has recommended that the 2-hour limit be extended to 25 hours.
“The FAA is committed to addressing the NTSB’s recommendations,” the FAA said on March 16. “We are beginning rulemaking that will require cockpit voice recorders to capture 25 hours of information. We will also establish an Aviation Regulatory Committee to explore how to make greater use of the data collected by the aircraft and its systems, including expanded flight data monitoring. We welcome any tools or resources that Congress wants to provide to help us do this expeditiously.”
Homendy responded to the announcement on social media on March 16, calling it “good news from the FAA” and “a win for safety.”
Extending the limit “helps operators improve security,” Homendy said at the summit. In Europe, the 25-hour rule has been in place for the past year, she adds, and here in North America, “we’re still waiting for action.”
“The thing that keeps me up at night is the next family I have to talk to when we go to the scene to investigate an accident,” Homendy said. “It’s the next family, and investigators that I’m talking to at the scene saying, ‘We’ve seen this before, we’ve issued recommendations on this that haven’t been taken into account.’
“It’s heartbreaking, especially for researchers, when they see that,” Homendy said.
The NTSB and FAA are investigating numerous close calls at US airports this year.
On February 27, the pilots of a JetBlue Airways Embraer 190 were forced to abort the landing after the pilot of a Learjet mistakenly crossed a runway in Boston.
Just over a week earlier, an air traffic controller cleared the pilots of an Air Canada plane to take off from runway 14 at Sarasota Bradenton International Airport at the same time the pilots of an American Airlines plane were “cleared to take off.” landing on the same runway,” says the NTSB.
On February 4, a FedEx 767 diverted its approach to Austin to avoid takeoff by a Southwest Airlines 737, and on January 13, the pilots of an American 777 mistakenly crossed a runway at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, prompting the pilots of a Delta Air Lines 737 to refuse takeoff.