Congressmen Call For Floating Flight Recorders


Tennessee congressmen Steve Cohen and Tim Burchett are calling on the FAA to require cockpit data and voice recorders be made to jettison from aircraft on impact with water and to float to the surface, in comments on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would require recorders to retain the previous 25 hours of data and voice communications. The current rules call for only two hours of data. In their comments, Cohen and Burchett said they approve the 25-hour rule and want to enhance safety further by making the recorders much easier to find after a crash.

Last May, the congressmen have introduced the Safe Aviation and Flight Enhancement Act, which would include the jettisonable recorders. They say such systems would eliminate the costly and dangerous underwater recovery of recorders, which are secured in a cabinet in the fuselage but are often dislodged in a crash. “Air crash victim families deserve assurances that search and rescue teams will have rapid access to a crash location’s site to speed survivor recovery efforts, and that victim families will have access to timely and factual information regarding the cause of an accident and the fate of their loved ones,” the bill says.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. My first thought upon reading the headline was “dumb idea….they will float away”. It’s a fairly heavy, small box….at least if it sinks to the bottom of the ocean, it’s unlikely to go anywhere. I will reserve further speculation on the idea and its originator, other than to note his bio describes a career lawyer/politician with zero aviation experience.

  2. Let industry develop that on their own nickel. Every time government techno-ignoramuses meddle in aviation, consumers end up paying more.

  3. Actually . . . I think the idea has merit for part 121.
    Think’n MH-370, Air France 447. Think’n about horrendous cost of search efforts. Might well be worth the development and retrofit expenditures.

  4. A Repulican and a Shelby County Democratic congressman in a narrow margin Republican controlled House — neither with aviation or aerospace backgrounds —
    Maybe their bill might be brought up —
    I am certain that Aerospace designers could come up with the ” floatable ” aspect rather quickly – and the 25 hour or any time above the present 2 hour taping is definitely a no brainer but the ” jettisonable ” upon impact deal is going to be pricey and fraught with imperfections and failures.

    Witness the first gen 121.5 ELT’s : active upon impact .”

  5. Is there no useful data to be collected from the time of water impact until the craft stops moving/sinking?

  6. Instead of making this a political issue with deadlines, leave it to the engineers to design, assemble and test a working model. Did we learn anything from the rushed COVID vaccine debacle and what we are presently experiencing with electric vehicles, all because politicians are calling the shots!

    • Is including your belief that COVID vaccines were a “debacle” a coded message to AvWeb readers that your political leanings make your opinions about floating flight recorders more credible?

    • Well, two out of three isn’t horrible. I sure hope the floaty flight recorder has a better success rate.

  7. As a Captain for a major airline I gotta say give me a freaking break ! Ok congress critters the cost to create and install this comes out of YOUR PAC funds ! Wait…….why did it suddenly get so quiet ?

    • Right on, Hugh. As a taxpayer, I call upon ALL members of Congress start doing THEIR job … starting with sealing the border. Let’s MANDATE that along with term limits. Let’ see how far that notion goes …

  8. Looking at it purely as an engineering question, it would seem adding the eject-float requirement to the single existing recorder makes the system overly complex with more failure modes. How about adding the feature as a separate secondary recording device that duplicates the data?

  9. Crash recorders do no have to be “ejectionable” in the literal sense. Hydrostatic release is a common function in the boating and shipping industries. A unit that releases after substantial submersion is practical. It does not have to pop out on impact.

    A buoyant flight recorder data module is also not a terribly difficult engineering task.

    Yeah, there may be cases where the release mechanism fails, but even if it is not 100% reliable is better than nothing.

    FWIW, the Concorde prototype aircraft had ejectable recorders, so this is nothing new.

  10. Why not dual systems where one system ejects and one stays with the plane?
    Heck, why not have 3 systems in case one recorder fails?
    An abundance of caution might suggest 4 systems in case one of the electable or fixed recorder fails?

    Sorry, but this is getting a bit silly with congress getting involved with their “solutions”.

  11. If I could post an Imogene it would be the hand over the face and head just shaking.

  12. I predict that MH370 will be the last airliner that we ever lose track of. The ADS-B mandate has created a situation where every airplane is broadcasting lat/long/alt once per second, and there are satellites in orbit that provide global coverage to receive these signals. Both of those things were still not fully built-out when MH-370 went missing.

    The politicians are solving a problem that no longer exists. To use a military phrase, they’re fighting the Last war.

  13. How about network connected CVM? There will be a few places it wouldn’t work, but generally speaking contact with the home office is possible throughout most flights – just datalink the onboard CVM and most of the time you don’t even need to bother finding it. The hardware already exists on most airliners. Seems like a no brainer to me – but I’m sure I’m missing something. I’m just a recovering truck driver who occasionally flies a Cessna.

    The idea behind it is reasonable; making it easier to find for rescue folks. But the legislation as proposed is silly. The engineering and cost involved is unrealistic.

  14. That should be “CVR” for Cockpit Voice Recorder – not CVM.
    My apologies.

    And I proof read that twice – talk about feeling stupid.

    I might have to become a member of whichever political party makes this joke funnier for you.

  15. With ADS-B as the emerging international norm, why aren’t 100% of airliners tracked by satellite? Malaysian Airlines cheaper out and declined for the constant telemetry satellite service.

    Tracking altitude, speed, and GPS coordinates to impact makes finding the black boxes a litter easier.

    A floating black box would do NOTHING to find MH-370. Whole wing section have washed up on shore without a clue of where to look.

  16. As Bill mentions above, the need for an onboard “black box” for data and voice is no longer really needed although it could be retained as a backup. Almost all airliners already have satellite connectivity as well as their company ETOPS system that could easily be modified to transmit flight data information – either continuously, or in data packets – to a ground station via satellite link. Voice recording might be a little more involved, but still doable. That way, you could have near instant access before search and recovery even begins. But the Congress critters miss the point that neither the CVR nor the FDR will give you the full story of the accident. And, you will still have to recover the wreckage and the remains, ostensibly as soon as possible, anyway. But my real question is, how often do we have overwater accidents that dictate the sizeable expense for such a rare occurrence?

  17. Why not collect CVR data via Starlink ? For redundancy and to cover areas outside Starlink (very few now) allow all planes within some radius of each other to replicate each other’s data onto a storage local device with an encryption certificate like we did with Lotus Notes ? The data to be recovered would then exist on every plane with a CVR. Getting lost would be kinda difficult. This sounds complicated but the implementation has been done quite successfully. We would all use this technology every day had Microsoft Exchange not won the email wars against Notes in 1996. F* I’m old now.

  18. Live logging data via satellite or ground station is probably the best idea out of this thread, and also illustrates the root of the problem. Legislators and other non-experts should not be dictating implementations, but legislate a requirement (24-48 hours of flight data and cockpit voice data should be recoverable with very high probability after an accident) and let the experts figure out the best solution.

  19. Though not a flight or voice recorder, the USAF Lockheed C-141s had a jetisonable locator beacon. It was designed to deploy upon impact or could be selectively released from the cockpit. In our digital age, I’m quite sure flight data and voice recorders could be employed in the same manner.
    (BTW, …the locator beacons would sometimes activate in flight without deploying.)