Jean-Paul Troadec, director of the French aviation safety agency, BEA, says leaked cockpit voice recording transcripts in on-going accident investigations make chances slim that regulators will heed the agency’s continued requests for longer cockpit voice recorder (CVR) durations as well as video coverage of the flight deck.
Speaking to Aviation Week at the Flight Safety Foundation’s International Safety Summit in Washington, Troadec said despite the odds, the BEA continues to incorporate recommendations for installing video recorders and extending CVR recording time to more than the required 2 hr. in “one or two” of its accident reports per year.
Troadec was in Washington to discuss the BEA’s investigation of Air France Flight 447, an Airbus A330 that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean June 1, 2009 on a flight from Galeao International Airport in Rio de Janeiro to Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris. The agency issued its final report in July 2012, including a recommendation for video recorders to be installed in airliners.
“It’s clearly a ‘No’ from the pilots unions,” says Troadec of the voice recorder recommendation. “The reason is that you have from time to time leaks from the CVR.”
In the Air France Flight 447 accident investigation, the CVR transcript was leaked to a French flight instructor who published a book on the account, and more recently, Troadec says the courts ordered the CVR transcript released as part of the Yemeni Airlines A310 crash near Comoros. He says the BEA ordered a police investigation into the Air France CVR leak, but the source was not found.
“Clearly I understand the pilots—they cannot accept that their [conversations] are put this way to the public,” says Troadec, noting that CVR recordings are limited to 2 hr. duration to address privacy concerns, although the systems could record for much longer. He says CVR recording time may not be an issue in investigating accidents, but can be a roadblock for incidents. “If an incident occurs in the middle of the Atlantic and the flight continues to Paris, you lose [the information],” says Troadec. “You cannot change that requirement because the pilots will not approve that. You cannot improve the CVR and you cannot request video recorder for the same reason.”
Troadec says video recorders placed to view the instruments, not the pilots, will aid in accident analysis, a position the NTSB also has made in certain accident investigations. For Air France Flight 447, he says the video would have helped investigators in determining what the right-seat pilot at the controls actually saw on the instrument panel before and during the final minutes of flight as the stalled aircraft descended into the ocean, killing all 216 passengers and 12 crew.
“We had no access to what the pilot really saw,” says Troadec. “We could reconstruct the data, but with the video, we would have known exactly.”