Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Flight recorder rule eyed for small aircraft -Japan Transport Safety Board

The transport ministry is considering requiring that small aircraft such as propeller planes and helicopters be equipped with audio and video recording devices, in the wake of a series of accidents involving light planes.

Pilots are often killed in airplane accidents, thereby making it difficult to identify causes of accidents since small airplanes are not required to have flight recorders or voice recorders installed. The ministry also aims to expand the use of airbags to small aircraft in an effort to improve their safety.

In July 2015, a light propeller plane crashed and hit a private house in Chofu, Tokyo. “I thought a bomb was falling. I hope such an accident will never occur again,” a man in his 90s living next to the house said emphatically.  According to the man, the fear he felt then still haunts him whenever he sees small planes in the air.

In the accident in Chofu, a total of eight people, including local residents, were killed or injured. Following the accident, the crash site has been left as vacant land surrounded by a fence.

According to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, there are 1,400 small aircraft used for private or business purposes in Japan — including propeller planes, helicopters and gliders — and such aircraft are involved in more than 10 accidents each year.

In 2015, there were 24 accidents, including the one in Chofu, resulting in the death of 10 people including pilots. The following year saw 11 accidents and eight deaths in total.

According to an analysis by the Japan Transport Safety Board, 57 out of 59 accidents involving privately owned small planes or gliders from 2006 to 2015 seemed to be caused partly by human error such as forgetting to extend the wheels for landing, stalling the engine due to running out of fuel and insufficient flight altitude.

In severe accidents, however, there are many cases in which the death of the pilot makes it impossible to confirm their words and actions just prior to the accident, preventing adequate analysis of the cause of the crash.

For this reason, the ministry set up an intra-ministry commission to promote the safety of small aircraft, with members including aircraft safety experts. The commission will study whether it is feasible to oblige small aircraft to be equipped with devices — resembling driving recorders for automobiles — that record such information as conversations on board, exchanges with air traffic controllers and video images.

Such devices, however, costs hundreds of thousands of yen or more. Moreover, they may stop functioning at the time of a crash. For the next few years, the commission will study situations in foreign countries, ways to expand the use of such devices and other topics.

The commission will also study the installation of airbags, aiming to protect pilots and passengers from the impact of an accident, and devices that provide information on other planes in the area. These devices have been used to some extent in small aircraft manufactured overseas.

Hajime Tozaki, a professor at Otsuma Women’s University and an expert on transportation policy, says: “Safety measures for small aircraft are currently lagging. Recording devices should be standard equipment in light of the potential results of an accident. Small aircraft can be more difficult to control than passenger aircraft because of their vulnerability to strong winds and other factors. The transport ministry ought to take measures to improve pilots’ safety awareness as well.”

Original article can be found here:

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