One of the most scrutinized pieces of evidence gathered from an aircraft accident is the collection of information contained in the Cockpit Voice Recorder and Flight Data Recorder. CVRs and FDRs paint an often haunting, but frequently useful picture of what occurred during the last minutes of an accident flight. This is not to say, however, that the recorders are always conclusive, or even useful. There are a handful of cases where the CVR and FDR tapes have broken, failed to record, stopped recording early, or not captured enough information to be useful to the investigation. Advancements in these devices are not new to the industry; however, the pace is slow to incorporate new technology into current fleets. Justification
Concerns surrounding Cockpit Voice Recorders and Flight Data Recorders stem from all corners of the aviation industry. There are currently five outstanding NTSB recommendations to the FAA regarding the use of and reliability of CVRs and FDRs. Of these five suggested improvement areas, the FAA has yet to respond to any of them, prompting the NTSB to place the issues on their list of Top 10 Most Wanted Safety Recommendations. Documented cases will be presented in this text where CVRs and FDRs have stopped recording seconds, and even minutes, before an accident. Other cases will examine incidents where the focus shifts to a hypothesis as to what may have been recorded on earlier portions of the tape. Either way, strong cases will be built to justify having CVR and FDR tapes not only record longer, but to record more information as well. Herein, we shall identify existing problem areas, areas where work is ongoing, and areas for which future plans are in existence. These topic areas can be identified as follows: úFDR and CVR carriage requirements for new aircraft
úFDR and CVR carriage requirements for existing aircraft (retrofit) úIndependent power supplies
úCockpit video recording
Flight information recorders have been in use on commercial aircraft since the 1950's. The FAA requires both CVRs and FDRs to be installed on all aircraft capable of carrying ten or more passengers when used in scheduled revenue service (FRD/CVR). The recorders, also referred to as "black boxes", are installed to help reconstruct the events leading up to an aircraft accident. There is no disputing the fact that black boxes are essential components of civil aircraft today; their job is critical to the investigation of an accident, however, safety experts would argue that the basic capabilities of these devices are no longer sufficient. Specifications
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is a regulatory body, which sets standards for international aviation. ICAO is broken into 18 annexes, and, comparable to international law, they are the very basic requirements that the organization's 185 member states must follow. Annex 6 to ICAO deals with the operation of aircraft and states that CVRs should be capable of retaining the information recorded during the last 30 minutes of the device's operation. In addition, ICAO has recommended that CVRs installed in aircraft over 5,700kg with a certificate of airworthiness issued after January 1, 1990 be capable of retaining information recorded during the previous two hours of operation. ICAO suggests that flight recorders be "constructed, located and installed so as to provide maximum practical protection for the recording in order that the recording information may be preserved, recovered and transcribed. Flight recorders shall meet the prescribed crashworthiness and fire protection specifications" (Frostell 20). The FAA has met the recommendations of ICAO and set the following standards for CVRs and FDRs:
Cockpit Voice Recorder
Time recorded .......................... 30 minute continuous...