How can they lose an airplane?

The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 resumed this week with three ships combing a remote region of the Indian Ocean off the western coast of Australia. Meanwhile, the NTSB – National Transportation Safety Board gathered in Washington with aviation experts from around the world to discuss ways of improving how planes are tracked while in the air and how they are located when they crash.

Malaysia Flight 370 has now been missing for seven months after dramatically changing course and vanishing without a trace approximately eight hours later. The flight left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on March 8. Early in the flight, the plane’s transponder signal and radio went silent. Some speculate that the communications were switched off in the cockpit and remained off as the plane flew for as long as it had fuel to do so. Satellite data were used to piece together a rough flight path, but the plane and its passengers have yet to be found.

“When a flight cannot be located, an incredulous public asks: ‘How can they possibly lose a plane?’ ” NTSB’s acting chairman Christopher Hart said at the conference.

Aircrafts that crash on land can be quickly located by ELT – Emergency Locator signals. Finding an aircraft that ditch in the ocean is more difficult. Boeing estimates that ocean crashes have been occurring roughly once every year over the past 30 years. Two tragedies in recent years emphasize how challenging these crashes can be to find. In addition to Malaysian 370, Air France 447 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009. It took two years for investigators to locate the French plane’s black boxes on the ocean floor.

The potential solutions that the NTSB is considering address the challenges faced in locating ocean crash sites. The Malaysian craft used automatic dependent surveillance — broadcast, or ADS-B, which allows a plane’s movement to be monitored by land-based radio towers. The system is expected to soon allow tracking by satellite too, which increases coverage into open ocean waters.

Other options under consideration involve live streaming of cockpit and flight recorder data as a plane proceeds along its route. Current recorders capture either the most recent one or two hours of data, and officials say this can be increased to up to 20 hours. Black box pinger batteries may be improved to last 90 days instead of the standard 30. Finally, the kind of black box used in some military aircraft, ones that detach from a ditching plane and float on their own, could be repurposed for commercial use.

“This system could be deployed today,” said Richard Hayden, whose company builds the devices.

Source: Daily Digest News.

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