Aviation Industry: Time for a Black Box Upgrade

Thursday, July 7, 2016
By George Hatcher

Woodland Hills, CA — (ReleaseWire) — 07/07/2016 –No one is saying that aircraft tracking doesn’t need an overhaul. It does. Examination of plane crash events demands it.

Aviation experts have been asking for pinger battery improvements since a month after the crash of Air France 447 on 1 June 2009, when the pinger battery ran down in July. Air France 447 was not recovered from the ocean floor until May 2011, nearly two years after it was lost. Debris from the accident was recovered in the interim, but if the pinger had been louder, or the battery designed to last longer, then there’s a good chance that the plane would have been discovered sooner. One of the outcomes of this terrible event was a determination to design a pinger system with longer lasting batteries. EASA amended requirements for flight recorders and underwater locating devices in its 2013-26 amendment(RMT.0400 & RMT.0401 (OPS.090(A) & OPS.090(B)) — 20.12.2013) but implementing these requirements takes a prohibitively long time.

Aviation experts have been asking for better tracking technology since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared on 8 March 2014 while flying from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia, to Beijing Capital International Airport in China. Because this plane departed from its planned route, finding where it came down has been a unique challenge. Inmarsat’s satellite communications network concluded that the flight continued until at least 08:19 and flew south into the southern Indian Ocean. Triangulation of Inmarsat’s satellite communications has been the only credible source searchers depend on to develop the search area.

Aviation experts have been suggesting the blackbox be water-activated (or have water-activated duplicates) with flotation of some kind so the blackbox can be found faster. More recently, aviation experts have wondered about EgyptAir Flight 804 which crashed into the Mediterranean Sea on 19 May 2016. It was known fairly precisely where it came down, and yet salvage and rescue units were unable to be on the scene in time to help any survivors—if survivors there had been. We will never know because no one was there. And while tracking the location of the blackbox fell within the thirty day battery limit, if the technology had more power, it could have been located sooner. Finding the wreckage sooner means less money spent on the search, and a shorter time for the families agonizing over their losses.

So here is what is new: Inmarsat provides SwiftBroadband service for plane’s inflight Wi-Fi on many aircraft. Immarsat is developing a streaming system described as a “blackbox in the cloud.” This streaming system they are working on will allow crucial data to be streamed off a plane on the occasion of specified trigger events like a course deviation or disappearance from radar.

One only need consider a few factors to realize that a cloud-based system is a crucial development that current technology can easily handle. We need only to look at the cost of the search for a missing plane. According to France and Brazil, those two countries spent more than $40 million over two years to recover the black boxes from Air France Flight 447. Bloomberg reported the recovery cost of Air France 447 was $100 million. According to the South China Post, the cost of the (as yet unfound) MH370 will be as much as ten times more than AF447. Like the expense of MH370’s search, the cost of finding EgyptAir Flight 804 is still ongoing.

Even when Inmarsat’s streaming system will be available, the aviation industry is going to be resistant, mostly because it is going to be costly. Is this a cost that we must afford? I think it is.

Let me know your thoughts on this crucial topic at https://twitter.com/GeorgeHatcher

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