Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Transportation Safety Board frustrated with lack of action on decades-old requests to record flight data in small aircraft

It may seem obvious to follow and record what happens in an aircraft, but few small air carriers do it, as it’s not required by Transport Canada.

Great Slave Helicopters is one of the few using a lightweight flight recorder.

“You could also say that this is an aircraft version of a dash-cam, but it’s also measuring more than just video,” said Fai Yuen, who is in charge of developing a program to use the data collected by the Appareo Vision 1000 hardware.

An October 2016 plane crash near Kelowna, B.C. brought the issue of lightweight flight recorders back into the spotlight. Four people died, including former Alberta Premier Jim Prentice.

At the time, the Transportation Safety Board investigators said a lack of flight recordings were hampering their search for a cause.

They said it again when a Mount Royal University plane crashed near Calgary in February killing two people.

The issue may also be brought up if a missing aircraft flying from Lethbridge, Alta. to Kamloops, B.C. is every found.

Lightweight flight recorders can capture everything from cockpit audio to flight data, which can be played back from one of three separate recordings on the device.

While the typical black boxes in airliners are used in big aircraft, a solution for smaller aircraft hasn’t been developed until recently.

One obstacle to industry take-up in smaller airlines and personal aircraft is a lack of regulation.

The other is price, with installation per unit pegged at USD$10,000 to $15,000.

That may seem prohibitive, but Yuen says when you consider the hourly cost of a chopper to be between $1,000 and $2,500 to fly, it’s not.

“It roughly works out to $2 a flight hour to run these devices.”

The Transportation Safety Board’s Jon Lee says there are a couple of reasons why the TSB is hoping more aircraft have lightweight flight recorders.

“Not only help us in our work to identify why accidents happen, but also in a proactive measure in flight operation,” Lee told Global News.

But it wasn’t a new request from the TSB.

It first recommended updates to cockpit and flight data recorders more than 25 years ago in 1991 and renewed calls with a similar ask in 2013 as technology improved.

In a news release after the October 2016 crash, the TSB urged Transport Canada “to take advantage of the new low-cost flight recording technology to advance safety.”

So far the TSB says none of its suggestions, including the most recent in 2013, have resulted in changes.

“We’re getting a little frustrated with the lack of action on Transport Canada’s part in addressing this recommendation,” Lee said.

Global News asked Transport Canada officials why it’s taken so long to act on lightweight flight recorders, but it didn’t answer our questions.

The government also turned down our request for an interview with Transport Minister Marc Garneau.

Story and video: http://globalnews.ca

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