FAA Looking At Extending Voice Recording Duration To 25 Hours


The first concrete result of a high-profile “safety summit” held by the FAA last week may be extending the recording time of cockpit voice recorders to 25 hours. CVRs now operate on a mandated two-hour loop, and many of the flight deck exchanges between crews involved in the half-dozen airliner incidents in the past few months that prompted the summit were overwritten. The agency is now working on rulemaking that will require the 25-hour loop. It may be part of the agency’s pledge after the summit to “establish an Aviation Rulemaking Committee to explore how to make greater use of data gathered by the airplane and its systems.”

The NTSB proposed the 25-hour CVR recording time in 2017. It says its investigation of some of the recent incidents has been hampered by the lack of CVR data. In all of those incidents, at least one of the aircraft involved continued to its destination, ensuring the incident conversations were recorded over. The agency didn’t say when the rulemaking might be available for comment. It’s also not clear what equipment might be required by operators to comply.

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.

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  1. Decades back , right after the Valujet crash, I proposed the CVR and FDR’s have a battery back up system. Again too much data was lost for analysis. ( as mentioned above) NPRM died. Guess not invented in house.

  2. I guess this is Ok but it seems way less important than requiring a continuous transmitted data stream of all flight parameters. Having a longer VHS tape in the machine used to be nice, but now there are better ways.

    • CVRs have been recording on solid state media (aka purpose-built flash drives) for some time now. IMHO, the switch from 2 to xxx hours will be a technical non-event, the sting will be in the paperwork!

  3. Somebody must have seen a cop show where the killer couldn’t be ID’ed because a security camera’s loop reset before the cops got a look at it.

    • More likely it was this reason (from that article above): “many of the flight deck exchanges between crews involved in the half-dozen airliner incidents in the past few months that prompted the summit were overwritten.”

      For example, in the January runway incursion at JFK airport the CVR for both aircraft was overwritten. Same thing with the February incident in Austin, TX where the landing 767 overflew the departing 737. Same thing in the 2017 incident when the Air Canada flight almost landed on the taxiway at SFO.

  4. Even more reason to retain the bulk erase button. Crew A doesn’t want their 9 hour flight read if Crew B has an incident or accident. That was part of the “contract” in the early 1960s, even when it was only 30 minutes of recording. Ah, but the federal “camel” does have a big nose.

  5. Years ago the NTSB recommended that open area microphones and recorders be installed at all ATC control positions. This was following an Air West midair with a Marine F4. The ATC radar did not pick up the non transponder F4 target. The four controllers at the position stated firmly that they did not see any target prior to the collision. This was later proven to be the case with follow up investigation testing of the radar. The NTSB implied that the four controllers were possibly all lying and said the suggested open area recorders would catch the casual conversation and catch us when we lied. FAA did not install the recorders.

    • I worked on that accident (Huges Airwest 706). I was the ALPA rep on the ATC Group. We went to the center in Palmdale and the Marines provided an F-4 identical to the crash F-4. We sat at the same radar scope that was in use at the time of the mid-air. The test F-4 turned his transponder off then flew several passes at the same location as the mid-air. The primary target briefly appeared a few times but was not discernible most of the time. The crash F-4 wasn’t on an IFR flight plan, so the controllers wouldn’t have been looking for him. The group concluded the controllers were telling the truth. That was the end of it as I recall.

      • Wow Wally. Small world. I was one of the four controllers. And with that test flown and observed, everyone, everyone said they had never in their career seen that old broadband radar as tuned up to maximum performance as they did that day. And it still didn’t give any worthwhile target. That broadband only painted once every 12 seconds. From appearing up over the mountains and actually in the view of the radar system until impact, only seconds. If the target had actually appeared it would have needed to paint several times for it to be recognized as such. And the F4 was flying mostly a tangential track to the radar system’s location. Teh radar, because of the MTI feature, even if it sees a target, considers it non movement and doesn’t paint it. An impossible situation I’m afraid. Even the FAA Admin said publicly, for which he caught lots of flack, “it was basically an act to God”. That event is documented on the TV series Air Crash Investigations, Speed Trap. Looks like a FB link here. The first guy in it you see that looks like Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt, yea, that’s me. I’ve got some time on right after the beginning, some in the middle, and some at the end. https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1503611029844634

  6. The most troubling issue in all of this is the clear message that those in authority believe aircrew and controllers cannot be trusted to tell the truth. I’ve always found this personally insulting, but realize this is nothing new and the lack of trust was borne of dishonest behavior by some in the past. Can we find some other way to address and overcome this behavior?

    Stifled cockpit communication from some crew members because of what will be on the tape and potentially used against them is an unintended consequence that exists today and could possibly become worse with the proposed changes. There is increased safety risk associated with any impact to cockpit comm that was hopefully factored into the calculus here. The current policy can serve a safety role in providing 2 hours of voice recording for use in mishap investigations to provide first hand evidence when there are no surviving witnesses. The proposed policy appears more focussed towards recording evidence for enforcement action rather than safety, and could indeed have a negative safety impact on cockpit communication.

  7. Microchips should be implanted in all 121 pilots. Then nothing would be missed upon an investigation.

  8. The initial idea was the recordings would be a tool for investigators of an actual accident, in which case an hour or so seemed adequate. Now that we’re talking about analyzing “incidents” the question becomes how long is really enough? Is one day’s worth really sufficient? What about the case where an aggrieved party doesn’t report something until days later?

  9. There have been a number of accidents over the years where the root cause took place early in the flight (or even pre-flight) and what would have been helpful information was recorded over prior to the final moments, and lost. The data recorder (FDR) already captures 25 hours of data, there’s no reason the CVR shouldn’t do the same. In fact, such equipment is already on the market today (because it is required in some jurisdictions) and this feels like the FAA just catching up with the international community. If anybody finds 25 hours offensive because of a second flight scenario, there should at least be no objection to the CVR having at least the same endurance as the airplane’s fuel capacity. Either way, two hours isn’t the right number.

  10. What’s the response going to be for video recording in all cockpits? We’re seeing General Aviation avionics data recording features, being used for accident analysis, while seemingly every pilot slaps two to ten cameras up all over their cockpit for social media promotion. I’m not sure how some of these stars manage to see outside as they peer into their video arrays while blathering about something that will produce clicks.

    When the NTSB finally gets its longstanding demand for cockpit video recording, what will GA use as a reason to object to it? It would enhance safety, at the expense of privacy that many are already giving up for financial gain.

    It’s coming, and the fight will be epic.

    • This thought makes me glad that I am only 6 years away from my planned retirement. Of course any changes in my health might speed that up.