Invoking commonsense and practicality, the US air safety regulator the FAA has rejected proposals to redesign cockpits to thwart suicide by pilots and electronic hijacking.
The decision primarily arose from concerns that missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 might have had its black boxes and other functions including automatic reporting systems recording mechanical performance including positional or heading data deliberately shut off, which is indeed what the interim report into its disappearance has already found in relation to the latter device.
As outlined in this Bloomberg report overnight, the US safety investigator, the NTSB, had asked the FAA to report on the feasibility of a redesign that would prevent such systems being shut down.
The FAA found that it had no legal or technologically feasible way to make cockpit electronics impervious to such tampering.
The press report makes no reference to concerns raised that an insecure electronics and electrical bay located behind and below the cockpit of the Malaysia Airlines 777-200ER had been entered and tampered with on 8 March 2014 when flight MH370 vanished with 239 people on board en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
However since then the 24 March mass murder of 149 people on a Germanwings flight by a first officer who locked the captain out of the cockpit and then flew it into the base of a mountain in the southern French Alps has underlined the importance of a related set of recommendations by the NTSB made two months before that tragedy because of earlier crashes caused by pilot suicides.
Those recommendations for better aircraft tracking and other measures have also been rejected by the FAA, although readers of the reports may feel frustrated by the lack of specific reference to the problems that would arise when a pilot was left alone in a cockpit and successfully prevented another pilot from regaining access after a toilet break.
This is because physical cockpit access wasn’t actually raised in the NTSB references to the FAA, which were concerned with possible changes to cockpit equipment designs to prevent tampering, as distinct from cockpit management procedures.
Since Germanwings, aviation safety authorities world wide have adopted rules that would ensure that at no time in a flight would one pilot be left alone in a cockpit, with a cabin attendant required to be present to ensure that a returning second pilot could always promptly gain access.
The FAA rejected outright an NTSB recommendation that a video recording device be added to cockpits augmenting voice and data recorders in current use.