December 10, 2008
ALPA Deplores Public Release of Fatal Accident Cockpit Voice Recording
Exploitation Demonstrates Immediate Need for Legal Protection
WASHINGTON—Capt. John Prater, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA), condemned the recent online publication of the cockpit voice recordings from the jet aircraft involved in a midair collision that took place more than two years ago. The audio recordings, which were released by the Brazilian prosecutor in the case, can be found in their entirety in the current online edition of a U.S. magazine.
“This type of exploitation is exactly why airline pilots the world over remain adamant that recording devices installed in our cockpits must be protected and kept absolutely private no matter where we fly,” said Prater. “In the United States and Canada, the release of such information by government investigative bodies is strictly controlled by law, but once a U.S. or Canadian aircraft leaves North America, these privacy protections evaporate.”
Professional pilots recognize the safety benefit of the cockpit voice recorder and allow that intrusion into their workplace to advance aviation safety, not to provide fodder for sensational journalism, explained Prater. The release of the audio recording of the final moments in the lives of the Gol B-737 pilots as they struggled to save their airliner and of the conversation of the ExcelAire crew have no place in the news media. Publication of these recordings in any form by the news media should be prohibited by law in every country.
Recent remarks by U.S. NTSB officials suggest that there would be benefit in additional recording capability. The NTSB has made such a recommendation on its list of “Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements.”
“The carelessness of the Brazilian government in releasing these recordings and the tasteless actions of this magazine in making the recordings available online for commercial gain threaten aviation safety and demonstrate once again that the cockpit recordings cannot be protected,” said Prater. “We cannot begin to have an objective discussion about the safety value of recording additional activity in the cockpit until our pilots have iron-clad assurances from the global aviation community, governments, and regulators that such recordings will be strictly controlled and used only for their intended purpose—enhancing flight safety.”
ALPA maintains that this problem must be addressed immediately. The union recognizes the need to broaden efforts to improve safety data collection but this must be balanced with the need to protect that data from misuse. ALPA has long underscored that other methods of obtaining higher-quality safety data exist without running the risk of egregious violations of pilots’ privacy. Capitalizing on higher-fidelity data recording, capturing the forces exerted on cockpit controls, and sampling greater numbers of flight parameters more often could all help obtain the objective data that would improve accident and incident investigation.
“ALPA calls on the incoming U.S. administration to work through the International Civil Aviation Organization to immediately set strict protections on the release and use of cockpit voice recordings to prevent this type of irresponsible journalism, which seeks to generate profit, rather than to make flying safer for passengers and cargo,” concluded Prater.
Founded in 1931, ALPA is the world’s largest pilot union representing more than 53,000 pilots at 37 airlines in the United States and Canada.
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