Is there a legitimate argument against having a black box on helicopters? I'm assuming there must be reasons beyond financial ones?
Airline and commuter type aircraft are required to have cockpit voice recorders and flight data recorders. There are no requirements for any other type of aircraft to have them.
Most helicopters are actually small or light aircraft. The helicopter in which Kobe Bryant and others died would be considered a medium sized helicopter, but a small aircraft.
You will find VERY few non-airliner or non-commuter aircraft have any type of “black boxes” as they’re commonly (and erroneously) called. They are not required to, either. Expense, weight, complexity, and maintenance are all reasons. The smaller number of lives at risk might be another. After all, they carry the same number of people as between a sports car and a passenger van. School and passenger buses carry more people.
Saying that, technology has become cheaper and more compact in order to provide de facto recorders. Some modern avionics have that function built in. With the proper app, iPhones and iPads have that function. Some pilots will go the extra step and buy their own sensors to provide more accurate data on Attitude, Heading, Position, Altitude, Ground Speed, Carbon Monoxide presence, and Traffic Data. Add-on apps will even record voice transmissions picked up by the headsets and audio system. This is not mandated by the FAA. It is more for the pilots Situational Awareness and review for training purposes. ForeFlight, CloudAhoy, Stratus, Sentry, and Lightspeed are some common devices and apps used to record data.
To elaborate on Dean's points:
- Weight is important in an aircraft. Small items matter more in a smaller aircraft. Large aircraft can more easily afford the several extra kilograms added by the weight of a recording device, its crash/fire protection, mounting, interconnection with the aircraft's power and other wiring to feed the data it is to record.
- Cost is important in small aircraft. Not just the recording device itself, but every parameter to be recorded has to come from a sensor or instrument designed to output a signal the recorder can use; it all comes at a price.
- Certification. Every piece of equipment installed in an aircraft must meet certification requirements so that it doesn't cause a safety issue and ultimately become the reason an aircraft crashes or otherwise harms its occupants. Certification processes take a lot of time and money. For a flight recorder, its value comes from its ability to work reliably and provide recoverable data after a crash. It all adds up to an expensive undertaking.
Most of the arguments against flight data recorders are moot - because of technology developed in the past decade. The same technology in a "smart-watch" that allows it to be a telephone, a camera, a computer, and more....is what now makes it possible to have a FDR and CVR that weighs about 6 oz.......one that also has computing power sufficient to contain the entire digital terrain database.....and an algorithm that tells the pilot when he flies too close to the ground.....even when that pilot has no idea where the ground is. As for wiring every instrument into a data recorder, the Army in 2008-9 worked with a small avionic company to build a camera that took photos of the cockpit instruments -- it cost only $3900 and weighed less than 1 lb. It's standard equipment on some small helicopters today....and has been used by NTSB in several crashes to determine causes. Such devices are FAA/EASA approved. Most arguments against helicopter FDRs and CVRs are based on unsupported claims of "too heavy, too big, too expensive". Not today, folks, not today! Wake up to 21st century technology!