The year 2014 marked a handful of tragic airline disasters. In March, Malaysian Airlines MH370 went missing over the South China Sea. On July 17, 2014, Malaysian Airlines MH17 was shot down over Ukraine. On July 24, Air Algerie 5017 crashed in Mali. And just two days ago, AirAsia QZ8501 disappeared over the Java Sea.
Debris from that flight was found today and the recovery of evidence and bodies has begun, including the search for the jet's flight data recorder or “black box.”
But technology already exists that would allow the missing flight’s condition, engine performance, cockpit conversations and other data to be streamed real-time back to the airline’s headquarters or manufacturer.
That kind of information would help pinpoint what went wrong more quickly than a months- or years-long search for the box. The data recorder for the 2009 Air France flight 447 that disappeared over the south Atlantic took two years to find. Some aviation experts say it’s time to put real-time tracking technology into place.
“Such a solution is long overdue, considering the state of technology today and the overriding importance of providing timely data to investigators,” Alan Diehl, a former accident investigator, told the Wall Street Journal.
Yet others note that modern aircraft produce terabytes of data that would overwhelm satellite transmission and digital storage devices back home.
“It is technically feasible, but the question is whether it is worth the cost,” said John Hansman, director of the International Center for Air Transportation at MIT. “I would rather have good air traffic control communications supporting better pilot decision making rather than using bandwith to dump data off airplanes.”
After the 2009 Air France crash, European aviation regulators supported the goal of planes being able to beam down safety data. And some aircraft already transmit their position through satellite links rather than relying on ground-based radar scans.