As the hunt for Malaysian Airlines flight 370 continues, dozens of aircraft and ships are looking for airplane wreckage, as well as the tell-tale “ping” signaling the underwater location of the flight data recorder, or “black box,” to uncover what happened.
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 this 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.