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Germanwings crash brings pilots under lens

Globally, pilots are increasingly coming under scrutiny, with their training standards and health checks being questioned. This follows claims a co-pilot intentionally crashed a Germanwings Airbus A320 aircraft in the French Alps on Wednesday.

While investigators will rely on the cockpit voice recorder and the digital flight data recorder to ascertain the causes of crash, there will be no visuals of what transpired in the cockpit. This is because owing to lack of regulation and opposition from pilots, cockpits don’t have cameras installed.

Though cameras were installed outside cockpit doors in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in the US, there are no regulations mandating cameras inside cockpits.

In January, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a set of recommendations on installing new technology to locate aircraft wreckage and recover critical flight data. Reviewing its earlier recommendations, it said all aircraft should be equipped with “crash-protected cockpit image recording systems”.

The recommendations, however, are being opposed by US-based pilots. Airtrafficmanagement.net, an online aviation magazine, quoted the Airline Pilots Association as saying the recommendations were a “premature overreact-ion…Cockpit image recorders will not improve safety and could, in fact, impede it by diverting the limited resources that could be used for more valuable safety enhancements”.

In India, too, pilots are opposed to the idea of cameras inside cockpits, saying this will amount to invasion of privacy. They argue the digital flight data recorder can capture hundreds of flight parameters and, therefore, prove useful in investigations. Aviation expert Mark Martin says cockpit cameras will not help prevent accident unless there is live-streaming of images.

However, drawing information from previous investigations, the NTSB said flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders gave limited information on flight crew actions and cockpit environment. In the case of some accidents, data were unavailable for investigators to draw conclusions.

A Boeing spokesperson said, “Boeing does not discuss the safety and security features of its airplanes.”

“Technically, it is possible to fit cameras inside cockpits and there are options, should airlines wish to do so. But there is nothing mandated by the authorities. This is a topic being discussed industry-wide and at the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) level and Airbus will support the consensus,” said an Airbus spokesperson.

Airlines for America, an association of US-based airlines, said it was premature to discuss potential safety-related changes such as cockpit cameras in the wake of the Germanwings crash. “Because no formal proposal has come from the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), it’s premature for us to speculate and/or discuss potential changes to safety or security procedures. There are well-defined processes to consider changes to current rules and procedures, and the association and our members will work in close coordination with the FAA and other stakeholders to maintain the highest level of safety for our customers, employees and aircraft. We await the additional facts from the investigation of this tragedy and the conclusions that investigating authorities reach,” said spokesperson Vaughn Jennings.


NOT ON THE SAME PAGE

  • US National Transportation Safety Board says aircraft should have crash-protected cockpit image recording systems
  • However, pilots and pilot unions opposed to the idea of cockpit cameras, saying this will invade their privacy
  • Aviation experts say cameras will not be useful in preventing accidents unless images are streamed live

RECENT AIRCRAFT CRASHES

March 8, 2014
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew, disappears while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Multinational search efforts concluded the flight flew over the southern Indian Ocean

July 17, 2014
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, crashes near Torez in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, after being shot down, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board

March 24, 2015
Germanwings flight 4U 9525, flying from Barcelona to Dusseldorf, crashes on the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board. Prosecutors say co-pilot might have crashed the flight on purpose