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Aviation Safety

Are Black Boxes Passe?

Every time we hear about an airliner crashing, like the one in Mangalore, India, this week, everyone is talking about recovering the "black boxes" to find clues as to what happened. Of course those of us in aviation know they are not black at all, but rather orange in color. But sometimes it is hard to locate the aircraft, let alone these flight data recorders. Aircraft sometimes crash in the ocean, making recovery of these data boxes difficult if not impossible. Or perhaps we don't even know where the aircraft went down. The bottom line is that this is "old" technology, and in today's world where thousands of satellites whirl around the earth there must be a better way to get all of this information. To that end Canadian company Star Navigation Systems Group Ltd. has created a real-time in-flight safety monitoring system which could make "black boxes" obsolete. They manufacture a unit called "TerraStar" which provides continuous monitoring of over 18,000 aircraft parameters per minute, and provide alert notifications whenever an out of spec system occurrence happens. The data is downloaded to ground controllers who could discover a problem with the aircraft before the pilots knew. Another advantage would be that investigators would not have to wait for the data recorders to be found, and the data transcribed, before having reliable information about the aircraft and its systems just prior to an accident. I visited their website at Aviation Innovation which provides some very interesting information on all of the data they can collect and interpret as it is downloaded from an aircraft in flight. However, I did not see anything in the material about cockpit voice recordings which are also excellent analysis tools when examining an accident with an aircraft. "Big Brother" watching over our shoulder, anyone? This information, however, could prove very useful to an airline and help in lowering operating costs through monitoring of the aircraft's systems like engines and fuel. What do you think? Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch! JetAviator7 ps: Don't forget to sign up for our newsletter "All Things Aviation" here!

by John M. White •