Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The $100,000 Device That Could Have Solved Missing Plane Mystery

How can an airliner simply disappear? That’s a good question, because the technology to transmit “black box” flight data in real time is already available 


As confusion reigns over the fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, you’re probably asking the same question as me: How, in today’s high-tech world, can an airliner go down with 239 people on board, leaving no clues?

Only once the wreckage is found, and the black box flight recorders are recovered, will we know what happened to Flight MH370. But there’s no good reason why this information has to be locked into boxes that go down with the plane. Indeed, the technology needed to stream crucial flight data to the ground is already on the market. It’s made by a Canadian company called FLYHT, and can be fitted to an airliner for less than $100,000.

We’ve been here before. In June 2009, Air France Flight 447 went missing over the Atlantic Ocean en route from Brazil to Paris. It took two years for its black boxes to be recovered, revealing that confused crew responses to conflicting airspeed measurements had led to a fatal stall.

Commercial airliners do transmit some information: radio transponders identify them when scanned by radar, and many are fitted with an Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS, which periodically relays text-message like snippets of information about the aircraft’s status. In the case of Flight MH370, the transponder seems to have stopped transmitting, and the airline has reportedly declined to comment about ACARS signals while the incident is being investigated.

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