WASHINGTON – Europe’s aviation regulator, finalizing the first mandated upgrades influenced by Malaysia Airlines Flight 370’s (MH370)’s disappearance, has fast-tracked and strengthened proposed enhancements to make flight recorders and aircraft easier to locate following overwater accidents.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) regulations, unveiled May 7 and set for European Commission approval by midyear, tackle several issues. They mandate longer-duration flight recorder underwater locator devices (ULDs) on various aircraft types, call for additional post-crash location technology on “large” aircraft – those with a maximum takeoff weight of 27,000 kg (59,500 lb.) or more – require longer-duration cockpit voice recorders (CVRs) aircraft manufactured after 2019, and order “obsolete” recorders, like those using magnetic tape, phased out by 2019.

The rule builds on a draft version issued in December, but includes several major changes stemming from MH370.

EASA’s long-range rulemaking plan, issued last year, had the recording rule slated for a mid-2015 release, but that has been moved forward one year.

The CVR duration requirement for large airplanes was raised from 15 to 20 hr., but the compliance deadline shifted from Jan. 1, 2019 to Jan. 1, 2020. Combined with the rule’s publication a year earlier than planned, operators net two more years to comply with the new CVR standards compared to the draft rule’s proposed timeline. The rule also mandates CVRs with 2-hr. recording capability by 2020 for all other aircraft required to have the devices.

EASA also moved forward by a year, to Jan. 1, 2018, the deadline for installing 90-day duration ULDs on all commercial air transport aircraft CVRs and flight data recorders. MH370 “has highlighted once again that the 30-day period is an insufficient transmission time for flight recorder” locator devices, EASA says.

The regulator, again citing MH370, also broadened the long-range ULD requirement for large aircraft, changing it from aircraft manufactured after 2005 to all aircraft, regardless of manufacture date. “Such a ULD model is a stand-alone equipment, so it can be installed on any large airplane, whatever its type or date of manufacture,” EASA says. The Malaysian 777 that disappeared was manufactured in 2002.

While history will show the EASA mandates followed MH370 and were influenced by the incident, they stemmed from earlier accidents in which flight data wasn’t recoverable or recorders were difficult to locate following accidents at sea. EASA in its draft rule noted that such accidents happen about once a year.
EASA’s draft rule was issued in December, but the comment period was extended until March 20 – 12 days after MH370 disappeared.

Several organizations pushed back against parts of EASA’s draft rule. Airbus and Boeing opposed the long-range ULD requirement, arguing that the costs outweigh the potential benefits. They also noted that EASA’s proposed alternative – outfitting aircraft with another automatic means to locate an accident site within 6 nm – lacked internationally accepted standards. EASA countered that the projected ULD upgrade cost, at €4,500 ($6,265) per aircraft, is “moderate.”