Since the year 2000, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been urging the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to mandate cockpit video recorders. The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) has resisted the move by claiming that cockpit video records can be misleading.
A failed helicopter rescue near Anchorage, Alaska in March 2013 illustrated the value that these video devices can provide. Moments after picking up a stranded snowmobiler, pilot Mel Nading lost his situational awareness due to bad weather conditions and crashed. The presence of a cockpit video recorder allowed investigators to observe Nading resetting his horizon indicator as the helicopter pitched back and forth, worsening his situation.
NTSB Investigator John DeLisi commented on the cockpit recorder, “It really gave us the insight that this pilot was spatially disoriented. Without the video, we would have been looking at a pile of burned-up wreckage, trying to figure out what caused the erratic flight path that led to this crash.”
Despite pilot arguments that money should be spent on other safety features, video equipment has become increasingly cheaper over the years and therefore more common in aircraft. Current video hardware from suppliers such as Appareo Systems and L-3 Communications Holdings can sell for less than $10,000 and are usually capable of storing flight data as well.
In October 2014, the investigation of the crash of a Virgin Galactic spacecraft was similarly aided by a cockpit video recorder. Pilot Michael Alsbury was seen to have activated one of the ship’s systems too early in the flight, leading to the crash.
Despite these instances of the equipment’s effectiveness, the FAA has stated that it will not be revising its policy on cockpit video devices. The FAA is due to undergo Congressional reauthorization next year, and some lawmakers plan on pushing for the requirement. Additional weight to the cause was provided by last year’s disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, which still remains a mystery.