- Recording flight crew conversations is a normal and necessary part of the pilots’ work environment. Every moment they are in the cockpit, flight crews are continuously recorded, with the CVR storing at least the last 2 hours of their conversations. Pilots support this because – as safety professionals – they clearly understand the safety benefits arising from being able to analyse the flight crews’ conversations and ambient audio prior to and during an accident. This helps to learn the factors contributing to accidents in order to prevent future ones happening.
- Pilots submit to such recording under the strict condition that the CVR data is to be used exclusively by accident investigation authorities in the context of their safety investigations. Pilots are one of the few professions that agree to being recorded at their workplace and the consequent infringement of their privacy
- National and European legislators recognise the need to protect CVR recordings (Reg. 996/2010). However, despite various legal provisions at EU and national level, as well as best practices in many airlines, CVR data or their transcripts have too often leaked to the public and media1, exposing data with private and personal content – sometimes the last minutes of the crews’ lives – to a wide audience, generating speculation, interpretations and apportioning blame – in a way that may be far removed from what actually happened, what contributed to the accident and why.
- This inappropriate use and distribution of sensitive CVR data beyond accident investigation agencies negatively affects Just Culture and the safety improvement efforts in Europe. Extending CVR duration would increase the quantity of data available for misuse significantly.
Leaking of CVR data results in speculation that increases the pressure on accident investigators, on the judiciary to act quickly to hold accountable those ‘responsible’, and on other authorities or public figures to come up with quick answers, rather than waiting for the Final Report to be published and generating mature safety improvements.
Increasing CVR duration would also increase the data that is potentially available to the airline management. While many companies in Europe have internal procedures – and sometimes agreements with the pilot representatives – in place to ensure sensitive data is not misused, this is not the case for all companies. Hence, an increased recording time – combined with very powerful digital storing facilities and the possibility to cross-check CVR and FDM data – would also increase the scope for (un)intentional (ab)use of such data by company management for other than safety purposes (e.g. any form of disciplinary measures). Although this would not be in line with EU legislation, not all airlines are as exemplary as some, and not all legislation is adequately enforced.
Increasing CVR duration on European aircraft also increases the risk of CVR data being used – and potentially made public – by non-European authorities, which are not bound by EU legislation and the protections contained therein. This is the case especially for long-haul operations (at which an increase of the recording time is actually aimed) where the majority of the flight is outside Europe. If an accident happens outside Europe, the national safety and judicial authorities will be entitled to seize the CVR and will be bound by their own local laws, by local political considerations, and general public pressure. – This would be an unintended – but very real – consequence that must be taken into account.