Cockpit Recording Was Lost After Alaska Airlines Incident

Recording was overwritten after just 2 hours
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 11, 2024 7:40 AM CST
Cockpit Recording Was Lost After Alaska Airlines Incident
An aircraft maintenance worker stands in the cockpit of an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft awaiting inspection outside the airline's hangar at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024,   (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Investigators looking into last week's door plug blowout on an Alaskan Airlines flight aren't getting any help from the aircraft's cockpit voice recorder: It was overwritten after just two hours, a time limit that some officials consider woefully inadequate. The National Transportation Safety Board has long pushed for the limit to be increased to 25 hours, but the move is opposed by a pilots' union over privacy concerns, the New York Times reports. The Federal Aviation Administration supports requiring 25-hour recorders on new planes, in line with European regulations, but it argues that requiring the recorders on all aircraft would be too expensive.

The limit means that the recorder can quickly be overwritten even on short flights, the Times notes. NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy says overwriting CVR audio on a two-hour loop has affected 10 investigations in the last five years, including some of last year's near-collisions, CNN reports. The recording stops during some accidents, but in incidents like the Boeing 737 Max 9 blowout, a circuit breaker would have to have been pulled to stop the CVR. At a press conference Sunday, Homendy said that didn't happen during the "chaotic event" on Friday. "The maintenance team went out to get it, but it was right at about the two-hour mark," she said.

Homendy tells CNN that CVR is "really key" to investigations—and it captures more than pilots' remarks. "You can hear what's happening with the engines," she says. "Often you can hear what's happening with the door that blew open, headsets that might have flown off." Sen. Ted Cruz says he and other lawmakers plan to introduce legislation to increase the limit to 25 hours. "Without access to cockpit voice recordings, investigators lack essential information about any troubling incident, whether it's a near miss, an equipment failure, or the recent Alaska Airlines flight," Cruz tells the Times. (More flight recorder stories.)

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