FAA Orders Airlines to Install Better ‘Black Boxes’ on Planes

Associated Press

The Federal Aviation Administration ordered airlines Wednesday to equip jetliners with more sophisticated “black box” flight data recorders and, for the first time, required cockpit voice recorders in newly built commuter planes.

The new rules were characterized by some aviation safety experts as a step in the right direction but short of what is needed because they do not call for new equipment for the hundreds of commuter planes already in service.

Needed in Probes

The so-called black box recorders--one measuring aircraft performance and the other recording cockpit conversation--are considered critical in airline accident investigations. Commercial jets for years have been required to have both recorders, but commuter aircraft with fewer than 30 seats have not.


Since 1978, the National Transportation Safety Board has been calling for commuter aircraft to be equipped with the devices and has cited a half-dozen commuter plane accidents in recent years in which investigations were hampered because there were no recorders.

The issue surfaced again this year when safety board investigations into an aerial collision over Salt Lake City and the crash of a commuter aircraft at the Detroit airport were hampered because the planes had no recorders.

Digital Recorders

The new FAA regulations require airlines over the next two years to replace obsolete aluminum-foil flight data recorders carried aboard many jets with more sophisticated digital recorders that monitor a broader range of aircraft performance and characteristics.

In addition, the rule requires for the first time that new turbine-powered commuter aircraft with fewer than 30 seats have a cockpit device that records conversations between the pilots as well as background noise on a continuous 30-minute tape.

Safety board Chairman Jim Burnett said he was pleased “that something that we’ve been trying to get for the last nine years has finally been achieved.” However, he described the new FAA rules as “too little, too late” because they do not cover the hundreds of planes that have been put into service in recent years by commuter airlines.

Retrofitting Ruled Out

The safety board has sought to have at least a cockpit voice recorder installed in commuter planes now flying. It has acknowledged that retrofitting flight data recorders, which would require extensive rewiring of the airplanes, probably is not feasible.


To address the safety board’s concerns, the FAA said it was considering a stronger supplemental rule that might expand the recorder requirement to additional commuter aircraft.