Federal regulators appear to have yielded to pressure from the National Transportation Board to require 25-hour cockpit voice recorders in U.S. airliners following a spate of incidents that prompted the FAA to hold a Safety Summit on Wednesday.
“The FAA is committed to addressing the NTSB recommendations,” the agency said in a statement to AIN. “We are initiating rulemaking that will require cockpit voice recorders to capture 25 hours of information. We will also establish an Aviation Rulemaking Committee to explore how to make greater use of data gathered by the airplane and its systems, including expanded flight data monitoring. We welcome any tools or resources Congress wants to provide to help us do this expeditiously.”
The move came a day after NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy issued a stern plea to the FAA to heed seven recommendations from the Safety Board, including increasing the duration of CVR recordings from two to 25 hours. “The fact is Europe has mandated 25-hour CVRs on new aircraft for over a year,” she noted. “We should do the same. We've also recommended that we retrofit certain in-service aircraft with 25-hour CVRs. I don't understand why it's so controversial.”
The NTSB continues to investigate six runway incursions since January, including one in Austin, Texas, where two aircraft came within 100 feet of each other, and an incident in Burbank, California, where another two aircraft came within 300 feet of a collision. The incidents shed a spotlight on cases of between 1,500 and 1,700 runway incursions a year in the U.S. The NTSB, in fact, held a forum on the issue in 2017 where the FAA highlighted pilot deviation and ATC communications as “key concerns.”
“Six years later, what's happened?” Homendy asked rhetorically. “We have the data.”
The Board also continues to investigate wrong-runway incidents that occurred last year, one involving a FedEx Boeing 757 cargo airplane in Tulsa and another a United Airlines Boeing 737 Max airliner in Pittsburgh.
Other investigations center on a severe turbulence incident in December, injuring 25 passengers as a Hawaiian Airlines Airbus A330, and another case in December involving a United Airlines Boeing 777 that dove from 2,000 feet to 775 feet toward the Pacific Ocean before pilots managed to regain control. In 2021 the NTSB issued a report including 25 recommendations related to turbulence but, according to Homendy, all of them remain open.
“Too often we've seen the federal government and industry act after an accident after lives are lost once the headlines are made,” said Homendy. “This is a real challenging time for the industry,” noted. “The industry is ramping back up from the pandemic during which a number of people, including my friends, either retired or were laid off. A new workforce is coming in and needs to be appropriately, adequately trained. Some who were out during the pandemic also need retraining. And our airspace—the most complex in the world—is about to get even more congested [with] drones, advanced air mobility, even more commercial space launches and reentries.”