The ‘big hunger’ for data

One of the most precious resources of our times is not gold or oil, no – it’s data. Data in form of pictures, movies and sound files. Or just as simple data as: where do people live and work, what they do, what websites they visit, or what items they buy when and where.

In aviation, the collection of data does not only play a role since 9/11. The use of Cockpit Voice Recorders (CVR) and Flight Data Recorders (FDR) is a reliable source of information in accident and incident investigations. Pilots – as safety professionals – do understand and support this ever since those were introduced on our aircrafts. And we will continue to support the use of data, if this will demonstrably benefit safety and if it is done correctly.

No other profession goes this far in the use and acceptance of continuous on-the-job recording as pilots do. But in the past we have experienced the misuse of data again and again. Leaked CVR-recordings, available on YouTube, in prime time TV shows, or as printout in newspapers is not what we support. Now, with new technological possibilities, the plan is to extend the recording time of CVRs from currently two hours to a full 24 hours day. With the storage of data being available in the future at almost no cost, we fear the occasions for misuse of such data could explode, especially if such data is not anymore confined to official accident investigations. On top of this, the use of Airborne Image Recorders (AIR) is being discussed again, with not a single example from accident investigations, where this additional device would have delivered the one and crucial missing detail for solving the case.

Europe’s pilots will continue to support recording our workplace for the benefit of safety. But the questions we ask: is it really data which we’re hungry for to solve the industry’s safety puzzles or is it data that will finally serve to feed the newspaper headlines and websites? The answer seems obvious to me.

by Dirk Polloczek