‘Triggered transmission’ system instead of black box can help to locate aircraft faster

The Malaysian Insider
MARCH 12, 2014

The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has brought a long-debated issue into focus – whether it is high time to install the “triggered transmission” sytem which records and transmits flight data the moment it senses something is wrong.

An editorial by the Bloomberg news wire service said the high cost of having a “triggered transmission” system, which one manufacturer put at less than US$100,000 (RM329,000) per aircraft, is the reason many airlines are reluctant to have them installed on their planes.

The cost of transmitting and storing huge amounts of data is also prohibitive.

The “triggered transmission” system was among the recommendations made by Investigators following the Air France tragedy on June 1, 2009.

France’s air-accident investigation bureau had recommended that the European Aviation Safety Agency and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) “make mandatory, as quickly as possible, for aeroplanes making public transport flights with passengers over maritime or remote areas, triggering of data transmission to facilitate localisation as soon as an emergency situation is detected on board”, the editorial by Bloomberg said.

In the 2009 incident, an Air France Airbus A330 was flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris when it disappeared off the coast of Brazil. It took five days to find the site of the crash – and two more years to retrieve the plane’s data recorders from waters some 3,900 metres deep.

However, Bloomberg said, the bureau was not recommending continuous transmission, but rather “triggered transmission” – when there are, for instance, unusual changes in a plane’s altitude, speed or proximity to the ground.

A working group of more than 150 people, from manufacturers to regulators, had said that such a system could detect anomalies as they happen, and that “nuisance transmissions”, or false alarms, could be all but eliminated.

“The stream of data would not only make travel safer, but also help companies save money on maintenance and fuel efficiency,” the Bloomberg editorial said.

It also said that a cheaper but still effective alternative would be off-the-shelf technology that continually transmits, in short bursts, just a plane’s position and velocity when it’s over water and out of radar range.

The ICAO has so far not made “triggered transmission” part of its standards and recommended practices, the Bloomberg editorial said.

Neither has it speedily adopted some of the recommendations made by investigators of the Air France tragedy, including coordinating and training for search and rescue efforts or requiring all underwater locating beacons to send transmissions for 90 days.

“Which leaves a question that will linger after flight MH370 is found: How many more planes will have to vanish before that happens?” asked Bloomberg. – March 12, 2014.

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