Pilots fight cockpit cameras

WASHINGTON – Airline pilots are dead set against putting cameras in cockpits as safety officials step up the pressure to require them for accident investigation and prevention.

The National Transportation Safety Board launched a two-day hearing Tuesday to renew its call for all civilian planes to be equipped with crash-resistant cockpit image recorders.

Four years ago, the NTSB recommended that the FAA require large aircraft to be equipped with cameras, but the FAA still hasn’t done it. The NTSB added small planes to its recommendation.

NTSB senior air safety investigator Frank Hilldrup said cockpit image recorders would allow faster and more accurate conclusions about the causes of aviation accidents.

“The technology exists, the costs are low and the need is here now,” Hilldrup said during the hearing.

But the idea of cameras in the cockpits has drawn strong opposition from pilots.

John David of the Allied Pilots Association, which represents pilots at American Airlines, said having a camera monitor everything they do would affect their ability to perform.

“It’s going to be very intrusive,” David said. “You always see the glass lens.”

The Air Line Pilots Association, the largest pilots union, issued a statement saying “the benefits of video imaging are vastly overrated because far more effective and efficient tools exist.”

Advocates of the devices said there are ways to protect privacy – encrypting the information, for example, or pointing the cameras away from the pilots’ heads and shoulders.

One reason pilots oppose image recorders is that similar promises were broken after they agreed to cockpit voice recorders in the 1960s, the Air Line Pilots Association said in a statement submitted to the board.

Pilots had been told the tapes would be used for accident investigations only and wouldn’t be publicly disclosed. But in 1989, a news program played the cockpit voice recorder from Delta Flight 1141, which crashed on takeoff at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Out of the 108 passengers and crew aboard, 14 were killed.

The safety board maintains that cameras could have helped safety investigators understand the smoke and fire conditions in the cockpit of two deadly plane crashes: Swissair Flight 111, which crashed off the coast of Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1998; and Valujet Flight 592, which plunged into the Florida Everglades in 1996.

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