Streaming black box data in real time to cloud could help investigators track down missing planes

Black box data streaming to prevent future aviation mysteries

Uploading flight data in real time to the cloud when travelling over remote areas could prevent future inexplicable disappearance of aircraft.

The idea, proposed by Mark Rosenker, former chairman of the US National Transportation Safety Board, would, however, require a complex technical solution that could prove rather costly.

Rosenker said the aviation industry should have started looking into solutions to the problem after the 2009 Air France flight went missing over the Atlantic.

"This is the second accident in five years where we've had to wait to get the black boxes back," Rosenker said. "We need to bring the concept of operations for accident investigations and the technology of what is available up to the 21st century."

A retired US Air Force general, Rosenker believes some basic black box data could possibly be uploaded continuously to the cloud. Having access to information about the communication between the pilots in the cockpit and some limited flight data would help the investigators to faster located missing planes when they are out of reach of ground radars.

In the time when airliners are introducing on-board broadband connectivity to their cabins, a solution for constant aircraft tracking should be at hand.

"Airlines realize that this is the cost of doing business," said Mary Kirby, editor of the aviation industry website Runway Girl Network. "It is inexplicable to be bringing these big fat connectivity pipes to aircraft and yet to be in a situation in 2014 where you can lose a plane."

She said planes should, at least, have an option to stream real-time GPS data in the case of emergency.

In the meantime, it has been revealed new satellite-based systems are already being developed in order to provide constant tracking of planes travelling over oceans.

There are currently two consortiums developing solutions - one involves US satellite operator Iridium, the Canadian air navigation service and three European air traffic control authorities. The second is led by the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), who works together with Luxembourg-based satellite firm SES and space electronics group Thales Alenia Germany.

Iridium said it will launch its space-based global air traffic surveillance system in 2018.

The disappearance of the MH370 flight will probably foster interest of the industry to invest into new technology for constant aircraft tracking. 

"It's extraordinary that with all the technology that we've got that an aircraft can disappear like this," said Tony Tyler, head of the global aviation association IATA. "Certainly I think it will trigger a desire to see how we can avoid this from happening again."

Currently, information about the plane’s location and speed can be obtained using ground-based radar. As only 10 per cent of the Earth's surface is within reach of ground-based radar, vast areas remain out of sight. When travelling over the oceans, the airliners have the option to to pay for satellite operators to provide them with alternative data sources, which not all of them choose to do. 

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