Statements made mislead the public

On January 18, 2000, the Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, decried the publishing on Dateline ABC of portions of the audiotape from the cockpit voice recorder of the Cali, Colombia American Airlines crash in 1995. On that audiotape were communications among the flight crew that clearly show that they had violated the requirements of any sensible operation of the aircraft, and demonstrated further that they had no situational awareness certainly necessary for flying in mountainous terrain.

The Chairman said that Congress put restrictions on the use of CVRs for the “advancement of air safety.” Nothing could be further from the truth, and the Chairman should investigate further before making such statements, which mislead the public.

The reason Congress restricted the release of the cockpit voice recorder tapes was because it was lobbied by the pilots’ union after the release of cockpit voice recorder tapes from other accidents showed that supposedly professional flight crews were violating all of the rules of common sense in the operation of aircraft at critical times during the flight and immediately preceding accidents. Cockpit voice recorder tapes that were publicized revealed that pilots were talking about women, cars, sex acts, and the like at critical moments of the flight and not paying attention to their flying duties, which resulted in tragic accidents and loss of life. This was extremely embarrassing to the airline industry, to pilots who were members of the pilots’ union, and to the Federal government because no one was enforcing the sterile cockpit rule which precludes any non-pertinent conversation when the aircraft is at 10,000 or below.

The enactment of the cockpit voice recorder restriction statute had nothing to do with safety, the enhancement of safety, or anything related to safety. It had to do with embarrassment, and depriving the public of the right to know what was going on in the cockpits of airliners which they thought was strictly business.

Rather than enhancing safety, or being designed to enhance safety, the Bill to which the Chairman of the NTSB refers has worked exactly the other way. Exposing non-pertinent conversation and the ineptitude of pilots causes public awareness, public discussion (among pilots, too), and will result long-term in the enhancement of safety, rather than keeping it secret and having nobody know what really happened in the cockpit.

The law should be changed and the NTSB should be better informed as to what lobbyist it was who got the law passed in the first place.

– Arthur Alan Wolk