The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 once again raises questions about the real-time tracking of aircraft. MH370 remains missing after controllers lost contact with it on March 8th. Authorities have assumed the Boeing 777 crashed in a remote area of the Indian Ocean.
The idea of real-time flight tracking has been discussed before, namely after Air France Flight 447 went missing and was later found in the ocean in 2007. It took investigators almost two years to recover the flight data recorder after the A330 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean while en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. Afterward, the public and industry folks alike wondered how we can manage to locate missing cell phones, but not missing aircraft? Even with the addition of NextGen technology like data link and ADS-B that's on board aircraft today, it's strangely not enough to find a missing airliner.
While the search for MH370 continues, industry groups are once again revisiting the idea of a live-streaming flight recorder for airliners. While the costs associated with it aren't anything that airlines want to pay, many believe that the cost is minimal when compared to the added benefits, and that it's an obvious remedy for cases like MH370 and AF447.
The NTSB is one industry group that is still interested in the concept of live-streamed data from aircraft. According to Reuters, the NTSB plans to continue to examine potential solutions that could include real time streaming of aircraft data from the flight recorder or ACARS, or both.
What About ACARS?
Currently, many planes are equipped with data tracking services like ACARS - data link technology that uses VHF and satellite communication to gather data from sensors on the aircraft. The data is sent from air to ground at certain times during the flight, transmitting things like flight times, location and fuel usage to air traffic controllers and dispatchers. The ACARS system on MH370 was disabled in flight, but satellites were still able to "ping" the aircraft about once per hour.
Why Can't We Stream Flight Recorder Data?
The short answer is that we can. The technology is there, according to this New York Times article. The cost, however, is prohibitive. And the logistical demands associated with thousands of airliners transmitting real-time data all day aren't there yet. And according to the New York Times article, the infrastructure required for constant live-streaming from thousands of airliners would be huge.
To become equipped for live-streaming, airlines would pay $50,000- 100,000 per airplane, according to some sources, and an additional cost for the service might range from $5-10 per minute. In an already cash-strapped industry, airlines just aren't going to pay that much if they don't have to.
The conversation doesn't end there, though. At least one supplier, Flyht Aerospace Solutions, Ltd., is already able to stream black box data in an emergency.
Flyht claims that while live-streaming technology on airline flights is an investment, there is also a cost-benefit involved. Security isn't the only topic at hand here: Live-streaming of data can alert airlines of maintenance issues immediately, instead of hearing about it after the flight lands or minutes or hours after the event. It also allows for better monitoring of new procedures and the system can record data for future safety and cost analysis. Operators would be able to implement improvements and safety measures with this kind of access to data.
And of course, in the wake of MH370, a more secure system of tracking airliners would be a welcome one. Live-streaming of aircraft data could ensure that an aircraft never disappears again (as long as the system can't be easily disabled or manipulated from the cockpit.)
What's your opinion? Should future airline flight data be live-streamed?