Airline pilots oppose cameras in cockpit

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - Airline pilots and accident investigators sparred yesterday over a safety proposal to put video recorders in aircraft cockpits, with the two sides deeply at odds over the idea that the camera doesn't lie.

The National Transportation Safety Board convened a two-day public hearing looking at technical, privacy and legal issues as well as costs associated with the in-flight cameras, and to press for action by the Federal Aviation Administration.


Safety board officials say video images would help fill in the gaps where information isn't collected by some models of cockpit voice and flight-data recorders. The board recommended in 2000 that the FAA require cockpit video recorders in certain aircraft.

A video would show, for instance, how pilots communicate and handle an airplane in an emergency. It could also provide a view of surrounding weather conditions, such as in the crash of the small plane that killed U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone and seven other people in Eveleth, Minn., during a storm in 2002, said Frank Hilldrup, a senior air-safety investigator with the safety board.


"Frequently we were hampered in our [accident] investigations," said Carol Carmody, a safety board member who is chairing the hearing, which continues today. "From my point of view, the more time it takes for the board to get to a probable cause [of an accident], the less safe it is."

Beyond being an investigative tool, cameras would be useful in predicting potential mechanical and pilot-performance problems, said FAA spokesman Les Dorr. The FAA is establishing technical standards for cameras in cockpits before deciding whether to mandate the devices on commercial airliners and some other types of aircraft.

Pilot unions contend placing cameras in cockpits would be intrusive, raise tension levels in an already high-stress job and lead to subjective interpretations about the cause of accidents.

There are no unsolved accidents in the last 20 years of U.S. commercial aviation, proving that limited resources should be spent on enhancing existing aircraft-monitoring technology rather than investing in photo surveillance of the cockpit, said John Cox, air safety chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association.

Advocates of monitoring flight-deck activity by camera, however, suggest the images would improve knowledge and help lower risks. They say the opposition stems mostly from pilots who are concerned about being caught making mistakes or even napping during flights.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.