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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Rotorcraft Report: FAA Official Calls for More NVG Use

COMMERCIAL | SAFETY

The FAA’s top helicopter official told Heli-Expo attendees that all night operations should be flown by pilots wearing night-vision goggles (NVGs).

"NVGs should be the norm, not the exception," said David Downey, manager of the FAA’s Rotorcraft Directorate.

A problem with that, of course, is that NVG installations in civil aircraft in the United States are done almost exclusively under supplemental type certificates, which is a convoluted and pricey avenue.

Downey also briefed attendees on current work being done at the FAA, in particular the agency’s support of and participation in the International Helicopter Safety Team effort to cut helicopter accident rates 80 percent by 2016.

As an approach to filling the absence of flight data recorders for helicopters, Downey discussed a concept being developed in which a camera is mounted in the cockpit of a helicopter. This camera records the actions of the pilot by taking photographs four times a second. These images would give video-like representation of what happened in the cockpit to accident investigators who now often work with very little data.

"We could then marry that photo panel to Google Earth and then you’ve got a full array of data," Downey said. "Any data is an improvement over no data."

This would then be combined with radio transmissions and GPS records of the flight. This would greatly improve the information available to investigators, and help to prove whether or not the accident was avoidable. —Evan Sweetman

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