NTSB: Use CVR Tapes To Check On Pilots

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The NTSB is recommending that Part 121, 135 and 91K operators be required by the FAA to periodically collect and review cockpit voice recorder information, and use that information to check up on the work habits of pilots. Periodic review of this information would "enhance flight safety by assisting operators in detecting and correcting deviations from standard operating procedures," according to the NTSB. The formal recommendations were published, Tuesday, as part of a much larger safety recommendation document (PDF) derived from last year's deadly Colgan Air crash. The NTSB recommends the data be collected as part of a carrier's flight operational quality assurance (FOQA) program and that "appropriate protections" be put in place to ensure confidentiality and ensure the information is used "for safety-related and not punitive purposes." Pilot unions expressed concern. Capt John Prater, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, told USA Today that reviewing the recordings could inhibit pilots from speaking up in the cockpit about safety issues. "It's an intrusion on privacy," chairman of safety at the Allied Pilots Association, Mike Michaelis, said. Legislators felt differently.

Members of Congress have expressed support for using the recorders as an auditing tool. Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the Transportation Committee, has said such a program was the "next frontier of safety" and it "must not [be] put off." The specific NTSB recommendation comes some 47 pages into the safety recommendation letter (PDF), which details lessons learned from the Colgan crash. In collection and review of cockpit recordings, the board concludes that systematic monitoring of all available data could provide operators with "objective information regarding the manner in which flights are being conducted."