Should Black Box Data be Streamed?

By | June 21, 2009
NEW YORK - JANUARY 18:  The cockpit voice reco...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

The recent crash of Air France 447 has created many questions about communications systems on aircraft. One of them being why GPS is not used to keep track of aircraft. The latest discussion involves the design and capabilities of the flight data recorders, also known as the black box(actually red).

The box, which consists of not only the data recorder, but a cockpit voice recorder, is designed to emit a beacon for thirty days in water after surviving a crash. But, in this modern communication age, why can’t this data be transmitted to the ground?  Experts insist that the the massive bandwidth and sophisticated infrastructure needed to manage and process data from tens of thousands of commercial flights per day could make it prohibitively expensive.

There are some options though. For one, the data can be compressed before being sent, reducing the bandwidth needed. Also, since the infrastructure is not there for full streaming, the system could be programmed to start transmission the moment warning sensors detect a problem, supplementing the black box.

There are also privacy issues. It should be assured that the data will be properly protected, especially the cockpit voice recordings, and the pilots’ privacy preserved.

We are certain demands for more data streamed off aircraft, as well as better tracking systems will produce changes in light of this disaster. But how far that will extend…well, we’ll keep watching.

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