Smile – You’re on Camera!!

January 13, 2010 by Bruce Landsberg

Flight-RecorderIn the heavy iron world there is a push for better flight data recorders. FAA and NTSB has asked for more accuracy, more recording time and more robustness to the hardware. It helps tremendously with accident investigation but also in identifying precursors. There are now so few accidents in the scheduled airline world that to move the needle appreciably we have to study non-accident flights and look for patterns that indicate a weakness or consistently poor operational procedure.

It’s also happening in the GA world that Flight Data loggers are becoming more prevalent. They aren’t nearly as sophisticated as what the airlines use but they are helping to identify accident causes and to protect manufacturers from spurious product lawsuits. One major GA manufacturer has started installing them, standard on new aircraft, since the pending suits have tripled in the last several years although NTSB seldom finds fault with the aircraft.

In case you weren’t aware, almost every car built in the last decade or so has a “black box” or event recorder that is used in accident reconstruction to determine what really happened. It’s significantly changed how often a manufacturer is considered culpable. Since other drivers are often involved in car wrecks, unlike aircraft, it really helps to sort through selective memory and objectively determine what really happened.

Will this help to GA’s product liability issues which raise the cost to all pilots and companies? How do you feel about having a box on board your aircraft that is keeping tabs on your behavior? Good idea or just another intrusion on privacy?

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

ASI Online Safety Courses  |  ASI Safety Quiz  |  Support the AOPA Foundation

  • Brian Knoblauch

    It sounds like a good idea at first glance, yet it’s not something I’m entirely comfortable with, especially after careful thought. While the data recorded may be neutral, the interpretation of said data will be biased in some way. Life experience leads me to believe that it will probably lean towards the “evil” side rather than the “good” simply because that’s where the most money can be made. Simply put, the people that would be reviewing it have managed to lose my trust over the years and trust is required for such systems to be accepted.

    Another observation: Data recorders are also part of the reason that I’ve continued to hang onto my old cars rather than buy new. Doesn’t really discourage me from buying a new airplane though, since I can’t afford one anyway! Wondering if the market in general will buy aircraft because of recorders, or in spite of them?

  • John Lutz

    I think they’re a great idea.

    Especially if they help lower the cost of airplanes. Both in initial cost and in insurance costs.

    But, here’s a thought… maybe they’re not only for accident investigation, but possibly also as a training tool. The question is directed more toward what kind of data is available, and whether it could easily be downloaded (with appropriate security, of course) to take a look at how accurately you really flew that last approach.

    As it is, automobiles already have the recording built in, but they also have a data port to which you can connect to a laptop. With this, and some helpful software, you can track your performance data, and even “tune” the engine.

    If properly secured, why wouldn’t you want to have more information available?

  • Bruce Landsberg


    Excellent point! I forgot to mention that a number of flight schools and universities use FDLs for exactly that as does FlightSafety and SimCom. They actually video training sessions and the instructors can mark a particular time for a quick review when the sessions are over.

    I’ve also heard that some of the new glass panels have memory – trouble is that it often isn’t hardened to survive impact, water or fire. Datalink perhaps in the future?

  • Walter Gaskamp

    Howdy just thought I’d let you know that i’m experiencing problems reading this blog via my iphone so you might want to check on that. thanks!

  • C Fred Crawmer

    …first, kill all the lawyers.” Am all for em particualry if the number of frequent & huge awards are reduced. Is very disheartening to read about a perfectly good airplane experiencing either CFIT or has its wings detached during an inadvertent VFR into IMC situation then read about a related award that clearly exceeds the bounds of reason. These tools may also go a long way in helping to explain the sometimes inexplicable, “Why did the PIC do that?!” and thereby make us all safer, better pilots.

  • LSWoodall

    I would like to have one in my plane if I could use the information to improve my flying.

  • pinterest

    Most Facebook users are teenagers who do not have a
    lot of money to spend. While that mantra may have worked for Kevin Costner in “Field of Dreams,” it
    doesn’t necessarily work for credit union websites.

    The “following” and “followers” selection operates in the same fashion as Google+
    and Twitter.

    My web page; pinterest