Safety board frustrated with lack of action on decades-old requests to record flight data in small planes

Click to play video: 'Why aren’t flight recorders required on small aircraft?' Why aren’t flight recorders required on small aircraft?
The Transportation Safety Board is frustrated with a lack of government action on making new rules and requirements for lightweight flight recorders in small aircraft. Reid Fiest reports – Jun 20, 2017

It may seem obvious to follow and record what happens in an aircraft, but few small air carriers do it, as it’s not required by Transport Canada.

Great Slave Helicopters is one of the few using a lightweight flight recorder.

“You could also say that this is an aircraft version of a dash-cam, but it’s also measuring more than just video,” said Fai Yuen, who is in charge of developing a program to use the data collected by the Appareo Vision 1000 hardware.

READ MORE: MRU plane that crashed near Calgary had no cockpit voice recorder, flight data recorder: TSB

The lightweight flight recorder installed in this chopper is called the Vision 1000, manufactured by Appareo. Reid Fiest / Global News

An October 2016 plane crash near Kelowna, B.C. brought the issue of lightweight flight recorders back into the spotlight. Four people died, including former Alberta Premier Jim Prentice.

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At the time, the Transportation Safety Board investigators said a lack of flight recordings were hampering their search for a cause.

They said it again when a Mount Royal University plane crashed near Calgary in February killing two people.

Two aviation instructors from Mount Royal University were killed in a plane crash west of Calgary on Feb. 13, 2017. Global News

The issue may also be brought up if a missing aircraft flying from Lethbridge, Alta. to Kamloops, B.C. is every found.

Lightweight flight recorders can capture everything from cockpit audio to flight data, which can be played back from one of three separate recordings on the device.

While the typical black boxes in airliners are used in big aircraft, a solution for smaller aircraft hasn’t been developed until recently.

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The Appareo Vision 1000 captures video, audio and flight data of the aircraft it’s installed in. It’s crash reinforced and records information three different ways in the unit.

One obstacle to industry take-up in smaller airlines and personal aircraft is a lack of regulation.

The other is price, with installation per unit pegged at USD$10,000 to $15,000.

That may seem prohibitive, but Yuen says when you consider the hourly cost of a chopper to be between $1,000 and $2,500 to fly, it’s not.

“It roughly works out to $2 a flight hour to run these devices.”

The Transportation Safety Board’s Jon Lee says there are a couple of reasons why the TSB is hoping more aircraft have lightweight flight recorders.

“Not only help us in our work to identify why accidents happen, but also in a proactive measure in flight operation,” Lee told Global News.

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But it wasn’t a new request from the TSB.

It first recommended updates to cockpit and flight data recorders more than 25 years ago in 1991 and renewed calls with a similar ask in 2013 as technology improved.

In a news release after the October 2016 crash, the TSB urged Transport Canada “to take advantage of the new low-cost flight recording technology to advance safety.”

So far the TSB says none of its suggestions, including the most recent in 2013, have resulted in changes.

“We’re getting a little frustrated with the lack of action on Transport Canada’s part in addressing this recommendation,” Lee said.

Global News asked Transport Canada officials why it’s taken so long to act on lightweight flight recorders, but it didn’t answer our questions.

The government also turned down our request for an interview with Transport Minister Marc Garneau.

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