FAA plans to overhaul airplane ‘black boxes’

Cockpit voice and flight data recorders — known collectively as the black box — are set for a major overhaul.

CNN is reporting that the Federal Aviation Administration plans to mandate that voice recorders record for substantially longer periods than they currently do. Right now, they only capture the last 15-30 minutes of sound in the cockpit. The FAA wants them to record the last two hours of cockpit sound, and then continue recording for nearly 15 minutes more after power is disrupted.

The FAA also wants the recorders built out of more solid stuff: Solid state technology, rather than magnetic tape, CNN says.

The network notes that the FAA has spent the last nine years coming up with these recommendations, which first surfaced when the National Transportation Safety Board recommended in 1999 (after the crash of Egypt Air Flight 990) that improvements be made to cockpit recorders. The FAA hasn’t gone as far as the NTSB wanted, citing considerably costs that outweigh the benefits of some improvements.

For example, the NTSB wanted video cameras installed in cockpits.

The FAA is also requiring all new aircraft to record 25 hours of digital flight data, CNN says.

The network does not venture a guess as to why it’s taken the FAA nine years to come up with these changes.