May 23, 2016, © Leeham Co.: Malaysia Airlines MH370. Air Asia 8501. Egyptair 804.
Three passenger flights lost over the oceans. One, MH370, remains undiscovered to this day. Air Asia took a couple of weeks to locate. Egyptair debris took about 36 hours. The black boxes are still missing from MH370. Once the Air Asia wreckage was discovered, the boxes were recovered fairly quickly. According to media reports, the black boxes of 804 have been “generally” located, but Egypt has dispatched a submarine to more precisely locate them.
The absence of real-time data transmission from the Flight Data Recorders contributed to the mysteries of what happened to these aircraft and spurred wild theories and conspiracies. ACARS, which does transmit data from airborne aircraft, does so at intervals–not real-time. Real-time data streaming from on board transmissions could provide immediate answers to what happened to an airliner.
Flight data recorders are so good today that these can detect increased pressure associated with an explosion. These, of course, can detect depressurization. The data could tell investigators why Flight 804 descended from 37,000 ft to 15,000 ft and then to 10,000 ft, and veered left, then right in a 360 pattern. Was there a decompression, causing the pilots to make an emergency descent before losing control? Did pilots have control at all? Was there an explosion? According to media reports (to be taken skeptically), US satellites didn’t detect a flare that might suggest one.
Was there a struggle in the cockpit between pilots and hijackers, like Ethiopian Airlines flight 961, ending in a crash? Real-time data streaming might have told us.
Was something else responsible for 804’s crash?
ACARS transmissions indicate there was smoke in the forward lav, the electronics bay and the cockpit. Some talking heads said this indicated a fire or even a “conflagration.” Nothing I’ve heard through yesterday confirmed open flames. Real-time data transmission would have recorded the temperature in the airplane, confirming fire or not.
Recovery of the FDR and cockpit voice recorders will give us these answers. But what if they are not recovered? The depth of the Sea at the crash site is about 10,000 ft. The clock is ticking on the 30-day battery lives of the FDR and CVR.
The point of real-time data streaming is that it would remove a lot of the doubt and speculation that accompanied 370, 8501 and now 804. In today’s world of terrorism, quickly confirming or disabusing these suspicions is important.
Irresponsible media speculation only fans fears. LNC puts up the same list of areas of investigation after each crash in an attempt to bring some sanity and context to probes. Then you get those who don’t know anything about anything, including government officials in France and Egypt and #MotormouthTrump, who make declarations that terrorism is responsible. They may turn out to be right. But it’s too soon to conclude such based on the dearth of information we have.
We could have real-time data streaming if the airline industry would take its head out of its tail-pipe. ICAO, the international organization that covers these things, still hasn’t mandated real-time data streaming, three years after MH370. The aviation industry is infamous for its tombstone mentality. How many more lives have to be lost before this change is made?
This won’t prevent a crash, to be sure. But it will aid in search and rescue/recovery, investigators and law enforcement. It should reduce the irresponsible media speculation.