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B.C. entrepreneur creates new flight recorder for small planes, filling market void

Last Updated May 28, 2019 at 8:37 am PDT

FILE PHOTO: This Saturday, July 14, 2018, photo shows a Taquan Air plane that was involved in a crash July 10, 2018, on Prince of Wales Island being barged into Ketchikan, Alaska. The pilot of the charter plane that crashed told investigators he initially confused the snow-covered slopes with a body of water in deteriorating weather conditions. The 72-year-old pilot initiated a steep, emergency climb but the airplane struck terrain, according to a preliminary report released Wednesday, July 18, 2018, by the National Transportation Safety Board. (Dustin Safranek/Ketchikan Daily News via AP)
Summary

B.C. entrepreneur hopes creation will help fill void in flight data recovery following small plane crashes

SkyVU described as an affordable, easy-to-install video camera that serves as both cockpit voice, flight data recorder

Because small aircraft aren't required to carry black boxes, many crashes may never be properly explained

KELOWNA (NEWS 1130) – Because most small aircraft are not required to have flight recorders on board, many deadly crashes are never properly explained. But a Kelowna-based entrepreneur is offering a new solution.

SkyVU is billed as a lightweight, relatively affordable, simple-to-install flight video camera designed for small aircraft. Mounted behind the pilot, it provides data from aircraft gauges, ambient and pilot audio, and the view outside the windshield.

Twenty-six-year-old Ephraim Nowak, who is also a Central Okanagan Search and Rescue volunteer, says he was inspired to create such a system following the 2016 plane crash in Lake Country which claimed the life of former Alberta premier Jim Prentice and three others.

“My whole team and myself were all awaiting anxiously to see the accident report and to get some closure on why this happened, and the report ended up coming back inconclusive because there was no form of flight data recorder or voice recorder on board that aircraft,” he says.

The past month has been a bad one for small plane crashes north of BC. Six people were killed when two float planes collided mid-air near Ketchikan, Alaska on May 13th.

Another float plane crash in the same area killed two people a week later, and late yesterday, a Cessna 170 went down shortly after takeoff from Whitehorse, claiming two more lives.

Nowak says his creation has already drawn interest from aviation companies in Canada and the US, and it’s already seen flight time with the BC Wildfire Service.

“We’re currently testing two prototypes of our system on Rapattack machines… we’ve already seen some fire action with those and received some very positive feedback,” he says.

Nowak’s start-up company Percept Systems expects to move SkyVU into production by the third quarter with the aim of going to market by the end of 2019.

He’ll also be presented the Mitacs Change Agent Entrepreneur Award at a ceremony in Halifax Tuesday.

Privacy concerns persist over flight recorders

Even after a cheaper, more convenient flight recorder hits the market, many small plane pilots may still reject it over privacy concerns.

Former Transportation Safety Board (TSB) investigator turned industry consultant Larry Vance says it’s been an ongoing debate for decades, even among large commercial airline pilots.

“It’s always been a bone of contention for pilots who say ‘if the recording devices belong to the operator, they belong to the management.’ What’s to stop them from going into those devices after any given flight and downloading the cockpit voice recorder information and having a listen to what’s being said in the cockpit.

“So it’s not quite so straightforward as saying ‘there’s a void here that somebody needs to fill,'” he adds.

Still, Vance says it’s likely just a matter of time before Transport Canada gives in to the TSB’s calls to make flight recorders mandatory in small planes.

-With files from Simon Druker