Aviation safety experts are dubious that the MH370 tragedy will spark urgent action to improve the data connectivity of airliners.
At the annual Flightglobal Safety in Aviation conference held in Singapore, a group of safety experts addressing airline safety heads agreed that the issue is not the amount of data aircraft produce, but the cost and challenge of getting it off the aircraft in a timely manner, and converting it into useful information for improving safety and conducting safety investigations.
The comments came in response to a question by an airline safety head about how technological innovation would have helped investigators better address two major hull losses in recent years that involve a significant lack of data: AF447 in 2009 and MH370 in 2014.
“What’s truly holding us back from the next stage?” he asked.
A representative from one data equipment provider said that his firm, in response to AF447, came up with various solutions related to transmitting key flight data off an aircraft in an emergency, but that the market was not receptive at that time.
“Modern aircraft can record several thousand parameters per second,” added a representative of a safety data firm with extensive experience in crash investigations. He says that the industry has tended to view the benefits of the real time offloading of extensive flight data as “marginal.”
“The industry is extremely safe,” he added. “When incidents such as MH370 occur, it’s very important stay focused on the existing safety initiatives.”
Another safety expert says that the US Federal Aviation Administration and European Aviation Safety Agency are unlikely to mandate the adoption of real time flight data tracking systems. “We don’t have the force of regulation that could push this through, so the travelling public, through political pressure, has to apply pressure for such technology.”
“It’s totally unacceptable that as an industry we very nearly lost AF447 forever, and it was only with extraordinary effort that we found its flight data and cockpit voice recorders. I fear we may never find the wreckage of MH370.”
Martin Eran-Tasker, technical director of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, notes that aircraft produce a vast amount of data, and that in the case of MH370 it was only after contact was lost in the early hours of Saturday 8 March was there an immense demand for data from the flight.
“When aircraft are in normal configuration they are being fully monitored,” says Eran-Tasker. “It’s only in exceptional circumstances, such as the moment we lose it, is when we want the data. We cannot project or plan when or where we are going to lose it, however.”