WASHINGTON — Increased efforts to gather additional data to address safety concerns have provided a strong rationale for the impending Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposal that would mandate cockpit voice recorders (CVRs) with a duration of at least 25 hours.

On March 16, the FAA confirmed that a long-standing plan to propose upgrading CVRs from the current minimum recording time of two hours is making progress. While few details have been released regarding the timing or contents of the proposed rule, sources familiar with the agency's plans have indicated that it will initially apply to newly delivered aircraft. Retrofits may be considered as part of a follow-up mandate.

The Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) move to mandate 25-hour cockpit voice recorders (CVRs) for large commercial aircraft would bring it in line with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which already implemented the requirement for newly delivered planes as of January 2021. The EASA's decision adheres to the standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization, which were adopted in 2016.

Having CVRs that capture 25 hours of an aircraft's operation would be a significant improvement in the US incident investigation and risk mitigation strategies. The FAA currently requires only 2-hour recordings and guidelines for preserving recorder data focus on post-flight procedures such as pulling circuit breakers in response to recognizable "reportable incidents." However, as the need for more data becomes more pressing, having a longer recording duration would fill a crucial gap in information gathering.

Issues with the current approach have been apparent for several years. For instance, in-flight emergencies, such as diversions, last longer than the cockpit voice recorder's (CVR) recording time, and critical data can be lost. Additionally, runway incursions or losses of separation incidents may not be immediately recognized, and the involved aircraft may continue operating, which can cause the loss of crucial information.

The importance of collecting data on commercial aviation incidents and identifying potentially dangerous trends cannot be overstated, given the infrequency of accidents in the industry. To that end, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently organized a safety summit on March 15, which served as a platform for launching a targeted effort aimed at analyzing a series of recent incidents and devising effective risk-mitigation strategies.

During the summit, it was revealed by Jennifer Homendy, Chair of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), that in six incidents involving multiple Part 121 aircraft, all of which were runway incursions or airspace separation issues, no cockpit voice recorder (CVR) data had been preserved.

Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen's push for the aviation industry to use existing and new data sources to minimize accidents, along with a series of incidents, has spurred the implementation of new rules governing cockpit voice recorders (CVRs). These incidents served as a catalyst for rulemaking, which is aimed at reducing the frequency of such events in the future.

"The NTSB has been recommending various CVR-related changes, including longer-duration recording capability, for more than 20 years. FAA, in 2020 proposed to its rulemaking management council a 25-hr. CVR rule, but it was rejected due to competing priorities and resources," Nolen told the NTSB at a hearing in September 2022.

"The plan was to revisit the subject in 2023," he added.

In 2020, there were concerns that the proposal aimed at enhancing aviation safety might not pass the mandatory cost-benefit reviews. However, the increasing realization that preventing incidents is the most effective way to improve safety, coupled with the absence of data from recent notable accidents, has led to a shift in the cost-benefit equation, according to sources familiar with the matter.