Cockpit- and flight-data recording comes to commercial fleets
Helicopters has embarked on a plan to fit its entire commercial helicopter family with in-cockpit imaging and flight-data recorders by 2015, according to CEO Guillaume Faury.
The move, announced at Heli-Expo 2014, was prompted in part by the loss of an EC135T2 light twin operated by Police Scotland that crashed into a bar in central Glasgow Nov. 29, killing all three onboard and seven people inside the building. Three months into the accident probe, investigators are still struggling to understand why transfer pumps in the helicopter's fuel system were switched off and why the pilot was unable to make a controlled landing after the engines had flamed out.
The helicopter did not have—and was not required to be equipped with—a crash-worthy flight data recorder, and the U.K. investigators have been forced to examine data in the non-volatile memory of onboard systems, such as the full-authority digital engine controls (Fadec), in order to piece together the final moments of the flight. Most of those data snapshots have no time-stamps, however, making it a challenge to interpret them.
Flight-data recorders are mandatory on public service helicopters, particularly those operated on behalf of oil and gas operations, but they are generally not mandated for light single- and twin-engine helicopters, for which they are deemed too heavy to be cost-effective. But, formerly Eurocopter, has laid some groundwork to adopt them on lighter helicopters. In 2008, the company partnered with U.S.-based Appareo Systems to install its 0.5-lb. (300-gram) Vision 1000 flight-data-monitoring system in the cockpit of the light single-engine AS350 Ecureuil or AStar- family. The first units of these were destined for the U.S. market, but the plan was later widened to equip the entire commercial Ecureuil family and, more recently, the EC130 T2.
Now Airbus Helicopters plans to install cockpit voice and flight-data recording (CVFDR) systems that include cockpit imaging on all its commercial types, from the single-engine EC120 to the heavy EC225. Customers that do not want it will have to pay to have it removed. “This plan represents some challenges, particularly if you consider we have to certify this device in all the aircraft,” says Gilles Bruniaux, vice president of aviation safety.
The data-monitoring device requires access to the helicopter's electrical system and must be wired to its GPS antenna. It can be used as a flight-data-monitoring tool with a removable memory card that stores flight data from sensors and an inertial measurement unit installed in the device along with GPS transmission. In the front of the device is a camera that captures cockpit images at four frames per second.
“The CVFDR can collect all the data you need, but sometimes a cockpit image will tell you exactly [what] happened,” Bruniaux says. Several AS350 incident investigations have been assisted greatly by the device, he notes.
“There was a lot of pushback from pilots when operators introduced flight-data monitoring because they saw it as a spy in the cockpit,” Bruniaux says. “But today it is seen as an important safety tool, and we believe this can be the same. We obviously cannot mitigate if the pilot decides he doesn't want the system to work while [he is] flying, covering over the sensor or disconnecting the power.”
Other helicopter makers are examining their options or have taken a different approach. Bell says it offers CVFDR equipment in the Bell 412 and 429 and flight-data-monitoring through the G1000H avionics system on the 407G and eventually on the 505 JetRanger X. “We will also have a very robust ops data-monitoring system on the Bell 525 Relentless,” notes Chuck Evans, director of marketing and sales support.
“Installation of the Vision 1000 system in Bell model aircraft requiresapproval, and it is our understanding that Appareo has obtained a [Standard Type Certificate] permitting installation on the Bell 206 series,” Evans says.
offers the Appareo Vision 1000 system as an option but is generally more focused on advanced health and usage monitoring systems (HUMS) and flight-data management solutions to address similar safety requirements.