Air Safety

My cell phone talks continuously with the cell and WiFi networks. There is a record with my provider and Apple of exactly where I went and what I’ve been doing. It’s on a small box that cost a few hundred dollars thatI keep on my belt.

An Egypt Air flight went down this week in the Mediterranean Sea between Greece and Egypt. This morning they are talking on the news about the frustratingly slow search for wreckage and above all the “Black Boxes”. The flight data recorders. The clock has started on the 30 day sonar pinger. When they find the main body of the wreckage they will then at great expense send ROVs down and try to recover them. Then they will try to extract the data on the recorders and hope that the extreme pressure did not destroy it all.

I keep wondering why?

With modern technology there’s no reason that all of this data could not be fed continuously through the existing satellite links the plane maintains anyway, and be saved back at the airline headquarters. You know, the same links that allowed them to track that Malaysian flight that went down off of Australia a few years ago. An on board flight data recorder made sense in the 1950s, but now it’s an anachronism.

Real time duplication of all flight data and cockpit voice data would do two things. First it would speed up the location of a downed aircraft. Literally you would have the GPS coordinates of the last position of the plane moments before it crashed. Secondly there would not be any worry about finding the on board recorders or their condition. The data would be stored in the server farm back at headquarters, with a backup copy saved elsewhere.

Moving from on board flight data and voice recorders to a remote system would speed recovery, in some crashes this might even save lives. It would also speed finding the cause. Investigators could start literally within minutes of receiving the report of the crash. No more waiting and hoping while they hunt for the recorders. No more worrying while the engineers see how badly damaged the recorders are. No more political questions about who has jurisdiction and can this country trust researchers from that one. It would also almost eliminate lost data. No matter where the plane crashed, how severe the crash was, or how many miles of sea water the wreckage was under. The data would be safe.

It’s time that the international air transport authority moved out of the 20th century and embraced modern technology. If my phone can do this for a few hundred dollars, it’s absurd that airliners costing millions don’t. And the thing is they do. The Malaysian flight was tracked to it’s final resting area by an engine subsystem that was continuously returning data to their manufacturer.

It’s just weird that the rest of Aviation has not moved in this direction.