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When planes crash at airports, it seems the only video available is amateur footage several miles away with terrible quality.

Why don't we have video recordings of all takeoffs and landings at the airport?

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  • $\begingroup$ The flight recorders hold all the data the investigators need. so they can just recreate the events on PC simulation and so on $\endgroup$
    – chaos505
    Apr 17, 2015 at 8:21
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    $\begingroup$ This is an interesting idea... I imagine you could cover all runways and taxiways with perhaps a few hundred thousand dollars of camera in the tower, and I know the NTSB has, in some cases, used security camera footage from the airport. $\endgroup$ Apr 17, 2015 at 10:55
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    $\begingroup$ A more important question than "why don't we?" is "why should we?", i.e. what benefit would we get from spending billions of dollars (worldwide) on recording millions of take-offs and landings per year? Accidents are extremely rare already; would we learn anything that we can't already find out some other way? Is the benefit - if any - worth the investment? $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Apr 17, 2015 at 12:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Pondlife won't someone think of the news channels? plots are boring, people wants to see explosions on tv. $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Apr 17, 2015 at 13:21
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    $\begingroup$ Here's the thing for me. Let's say, worldwide, some great benefactor spends 2 billion USD to set this all up so that every runway, taxiway, and essentially every part of every major airport is covered with video... Murphy's Law says the next three airline accidents will occur within a mile of airports. $\endgroup$
    – CGCampbell
    Apr 19, 2015 at 11:26

2 Answers 2

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Because video is mostly useless for investigation.

The investigators need to know the exact flightpath, which is already recorded by the ATC radar and by the flight data recorder, they need to know whether and which systems failed, which is recorded by the flight data recorder, and they need to know what the pilots were doing, for which they have cockpit voice recorder and the radio communication is also recorded in the ATC facility (tower).

Video would be worse for determining the flight path than both ATC radar and FDR and while ATC radar does not have attitude, FDR does and again more precisely than video. Plus video might, depending on angle, have external damage, but that can generally be determined by examining the wreckage quite fine.

So video would add very little information over the existing recordings and thus it is not cost-effective to add it for just this purpose at all airports (it may be used if it is installed for security purposes).

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    $\begingroup$ Actually, there have been several instances where video footage proved to be a huge asset in determining the causal factors of crashes. Off the top of my head, the 747 crash at Bagram. $\endgroup$ Apr 18, 2015 at 20:04
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    $\begingroup$ @RhinoDriver: Not really. The video allowed to take an educated guess at the cause earlier on, but to make any definite conclusion the FDR data were needed and used. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Apr 19, 2015 at 9:26
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    $\begingroup$ And if the FDR data correlates with what the investigators see in the video then their conclusion is strengthened. The NTSB actively seeks out video evidence, therefore Occam's Razor would lead me to believe they actually use it in their investigations. Not only that, but the NTSB has requested cockpit video recorders several times since 2000-- they seem to be very interested in video evidence. More so, however, unless you are an investigator yourself, or have a credible source you can cite, then that is just your opinion, and the use of video in previous cases suggests otherwise. $\endgroup$ Apr 19, 2015 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ @RhinoDriver: Good investigator will always collect all evidence they can get, even if it is duplicate. But I haven't heard of accident where a video would be critical piece of evidence, i.e. some conclusions had no other supporting evidence except the video. No, I am not investigator, but all the reports are public. You can try to find one. As for cockpit video recorders, that is another thing; that is to record pilot actions. Even not all controls elements are recorded in FDR (e.g. circuit breaker positions) and other actions may be important (e.g. fight in cockpit). $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Apr 19, 2015 at 17:07
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As an airport manager, I often don't have the money to place cameras everywhere. Videos at the airport are an airport sponsor's responsibility, and most airport operators have very limited budgets. When you get into the larger airports, the cost is still an issue because of the amount of acreage that has to be covered. The other issue, is that Part 139 prohibits certain items from being in the runway safety area, and a camera is not generally considered frangible. Even if I could put a camera by the runway, the best that I could do is a wildlife camera with at most a 70' visual distance with a heavily pixelated image.

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  • $\begingroup$ Oh, right, like FDRs and CVRs will explain taxiway collisions. No, cameras are too expensive. Let's save then for places with deep pockets like 7-11 stores or almost every fricking place on earth EXCEPT airports. They have something to hide. I have no idea what but somebody doesn't want them. - aviation.stackexchange.com/users/12563/greg-of-swallowbrook $\endgroup$ Dec 6, 2015 at 16:41
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    $\begingroup$ Something to hide? Be realistic. Cameras, that can last outside in harsh conditions with minimal maintenance, that can record at high enough resolution to be useful in an investigation, that won't themselves be a danger to aircraft, that cover all the relevant areas, that can work at night or in the rain or fog or snow, not to mention all the infrastructure that goes with them (recording equipment, connections between the cameras and recorders, power) gets pretty expensive. The real question is whether all that money could be more effective on other aviation safety improvements instead. $\endgroup$ Jul 2, 2016 at 10:07

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