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Better ways to find plane crash sites are needed US officials told

The adoption of improved technologies to track downed planes and to retrieve critical flight data faster without underwater searches should be a priority, the US air accident investigation agency said.  

In a recommendation letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) called for safety measures to locate aircraft wreckage and black boxes “without the need for immediate underwater retrieval”.

“Technology has reached a point where we shouldn’t have to search hundreds of miles of ocean floor in a frantic race to find these valuable boxes,’’ said Christopher Hart, acting chairman of the NTSB.

With so many gadgets and software that can now pinpoint location, “a lost aircraft should be a thing of the past”, Hart said.

The agency also pressed for systems that allowed shooting cockpit video in the minutes before a crash.

According to NTSB it is crucial to broadcast data to spot the location of a crash within six nautical miles of impact. Some current systems broadcast only every 10 minutes, creating a potential 40 nautical mile radius search area, the NTSB said.

However, the Air Line Pilots Association in the US (ALPA) said cockpit video would not improve safety.

Captain Tim Canoll, ALPA president, said in a statement that more should be done to record data of “higher quality as opposed to video images, which are subject to misinterpretation and may in fact lead investigators away from accurate conclusions”.   

The list of recommendations follows a forum held by the NTSB last October, Emerging Flight Data and Locator Technology, that discussed the issues in detail.

Industry and global regulators are expected to reach consensus over a series of measures concerning air traffic safety at the High-level Safety Conference in Montreal next month, after a series of plane crashes in which wreckage and black boxes were difficult or impossible to find. 

Read E&T's latest feature on emergency locator improvements. 

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