The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) yesterday (Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015) released a number of recommendations, some of which it has been asked to consider for decades, calling for improvements in locating downed aircraft and to obtain flight data more quickly and without the need for underwater retrieval. Many of these recommendations, which were issued to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for action, have been demanded by families who have lost loved ones in recent commercial airline crash cases.
In its recommendations, the NTSB pointed to the 2009 crash of Air France Flight 447 where it took nearly two years and $40 million to recover the flight data recorders. The NTSB also pointed out that investigators still are searching for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 that has involved 26 countries and 84 vessels. Among the NTSB recommendations to the FAA is one to equip airliners with a tamper-resistant method to broadcast to a ground station sufficient information to establish the impact location within six nautical miles of the last transmission.
Another is to equip airliners with a means to recover recorded flight data without having to go underwater to locate the wreckage or retrieve the recorders – one means of accomplishing this is by requiring them to be equipped with a deployable flight recorder such as those made by DRS and installed on military airplanes for the past 50 years. The NTSB has resisted recommending deployable recorders for about 15 years because of staff concerns about cost and reliability, something that has finally been overtaken by the positive facts of their 50 year service history and the overwhelming need to do more to prevent the recent recurrence of weeks, months, and years of families suffering through the agony of lost airplanes and lack of recorded data to explain the loss of loved ones.
The NTSB also repeated its 15-year-old recommendation for a crash-protected image recording system that would record the cockpit environment. Video recordings of the cockpit are something that has been technically feasible and badly needed for several decades to improve the quality and accuracy of accident investigations and thus aviation safety. However, despite government privacy protections for such image recordings and the technical opinions of its own accident investigation and engineering staff, the US Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) has successfully lobbied against requiring image recorders on airliners throughout those decades and may do so again as these recommendations now move to the FAA for approval and implementation. These new NTSB recommendations indicate its disagreement with ALPA’s opposition and is urging the FAA to act, and hopefully also be ready to fight on Capitol Hill and in the media for airline cockpit image recording. “Hopefully, these recommendations will awaken the world to the modern global needs of aviation accident investigation and safety,” said Robert A. Clifford, founder and senior partner at Clifford Law Offices, which has been a consistent proponent of these measures through its aviation work and the aviation experts it has hired in litigating these claims on behalf of family members who lost loved ones in aviation crashes around the world. “The grief of the family members as they watch and wait for what can amount to years is so heart-wrenching, it is indescribable. Now the FAA must take action to put these recommendations into action.” Clifford has pointed out in several 2014 op-ed articles in the San Francisco Chronicle as well as in a recent blog item posted on this website just last month that these safety measures are very do-able and are affordable.
In March of 2014, after the Malaysia Flight 370 accident, Clifford wrote “First, deployable recorders that jettison upon impact, float, and transmit their position to satellites world-wide, would assure location of the recorder with flight data and cockpit voice recordings within hours of a crash anywhere in the world, including remote ocean locations. Deployable recorders such as those made by DRS Technologies have been installed on military airplanes, including variants of commercial airplanes such as the Boeing 707 and 737, for over 50 years. And since the 9/11 terrorist tragedy, Congress has been funding various deployable recorder studies and demonstrations that show deployable recorders are ready to go for commercial airliners.
Second, satellite asset tracking devices, some of which cost less than $100 to purchase and less than $150 per year in tracking service fees per asset/airplane, would allow authorities and owners to track airliners anywhere in the world on Google Maps from a smart phone, laptop, or desktop computer. These devices, such as the SPOT Trace from Globalstar, can be hidden inside airliners to prevent tampering, operate off battery power for weeks after losing airplane power, and work anywhere in the world. SPOT satellite tracking devices have been in use for tracking boats, cars, people, private airplanes, and other assets for many years.”
The eight NTSB recommendations and supporting language can be found at http://www.ntsb.gov/safety/safety-recs/recletters/A-15-001-008.pdf. Members of the aviation team at Clifford Law Offices are available to speak to the press further regarding these important recommendations. 312-899-9090. Pamela Sakowicz Menaker, Communications Partner at Clifford Law Offices’ cell phone: 847-721-0909