NTSB: Wingtip Cameras For Large Aircraft

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Citing 12 accident investigations since 1993, the NTSB has issued a Safety Recommendation to the FAA for installation of anti-collision aids, like onboard camera systems, to help pilots with clearance issues during taxi. The Board says preliminary information collected in its investigations show that pilots of large aircraft cannot easily see the aircraft's wingtips from the cockpit. It found that in aircraft like the 747, 757, 767, 777 and the Airbus A380 pilots must literally stick their heads out of the window to see the airplane's wingtips, noting that this "is often impractical." The recommendation notes that the Airbus A380 superjumbo is already equipped with an external camera system, and why that system is insufficient in addressing the Board's concerns.

According to the NTSB each of 12 accidents referenced by the letter involved situations in which pilots "were either unable to determine or had difficulty determining the separation" between their aircraft's wingtips and another object while taxiing. The recommendation states that the accidents "highlight the need" for aids that to help pilots with the problem of sometimes moving obstacles they may encounter on the ground. The A380 is equipped with an External Taxi Aid Camera System consisting of two cameras -- one on the belly and one on the vertical fin. The intent of the belly camera is to display the position of the landing gear before and during taxi and to provide "an external landscape." The vertical fin camera displays a field of view that does not extend to the aircraft's wingtips but shows most of the fuselage, and the jet's wings from outboard engine to outboard engine. The NTSB recommends that a system that displays wingtips and wingtip paths -- not unlike the backup camera in some modern cars -- be installed on all newly manufactured large airplanes where the wingtips are not easily visible from the cockpit. See the full recommendation here (PDF).