The tragic crash of a German airliner this week immediately evoked memories of the two airliners lost in Southeast Asia. Fortunately I suppose, this time the crash site was on dry land, not that it helped the crew and passengers at all. Even at that, due to the rugged terrain rescue teams faced difficulties reaching the site.
The troubling thing about these three incidents is that time elapsed between the moment the airliners deviated from either their flight path or assigned altitude and the time they actually crashed. In the case of Malaysia flight 370 the crash site has never been found so no information has been gleaned from the flight data recorder or the cockpit voice recorder. The AirAsia crash site was found, but the search for the craft’s black boxes was difficult. These devices can provide important clues as to the cause of a crash, but in many cases such as these, the information comes much too late (if ever) to save the lives of those onboard.
Technology has come a long way since the first “black boxes” were installed on aircraft, and although the technology used in these black boxes has most likely evolved over the years, the information stored in them is only good after the fact. Certainly the technology exists, or could easily exist, for these devices to transmit flight data and even cockpit voice recordings to satellites in real time, providing valuable information that could at the least help rescuers pinpoint a crash site as it happens, and possibly to detect onboard emergencies before a crash occurs.
How hard can it be?
Technology exists, and in fact is in common use, that allows the government to track your cell phone, your car, allows people to fly unmanned aircraft around the world and monitor events on the ground in real time, take control of someone’s car as it is being driven on the highway, capture every single email, cell phone call, and text message sent by everyone in the world, yet we cannot track something as large and important as an airliner full of passengers?
If that is too difficult, why not load small satellite position transmitters into the fuselage designed to break away and float when an aircraft hits the water and transmit emergency signals long enough for emergency crews to reach the site? Would that not make more sense than to search for a signal form a black box potentially lying on the bottom of a vast ocean?
I’m no rocket surgeon, but given the state of technology it seems rather odd that such measures have not already been put into place. If this technology does not yet exist, it would certainly present a major business opportunity for some enterprising young technical wizard. Anybody interested?