Aviation industry in standoff over making ‘black boxes’ deployable and able to share data faster
Two possible technology updates are deployable recorders, with transmitters for easier location from crash sites, and streaming data devices
A Malay couple watch Malaysia Airlines aircraft at Kuala Lumpur International airport on Jan. 23. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing in March 2014 while traveling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers aboard.
By ANDY PASZTOR
Three years after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370’s unresolved disappearance sparked efforts to implement new flight-data recorder technology, the global aviation community is deadlocked over the best way to ensure investigators will have timely access to vital clues in future crashes.
Technical, marketing and jurisdictional disputes-pitting Boeing Co. and U.S. regulators against Airbus Group SE and European authorities-have blocked consensus over prospective changes to today’s “black boxes” that help unravel accidents.
The most prominent disagreement involves “deployable” recorders, devices designed to capture real-time flight data and cockpit conversations, just as damage-resistant black-box recorders do.
But while conventional black boxes are intended to be recovered from wreckage, the alternative devices, already used in a broad range of military jets and helicopters world-wide, are designed to be jettisoned automatically prior to impact and to float.
Airbus AIR, -0.14% and other proponents say that supplementing current systems with deployable technology would lead to easier searches, with features including built-in emergency transmitters that can pinpoint locations on the surface of water.
In the opposing camp, Boeing’s BA, -0.12% position is that the deployable technology is unnecessary partly because there are so few crashes of big jets, and the recorders are expensive to maintain and potentially hazardous if ejected by mistake. The disagreement has played out in various forums, both in public and private. Federal Aviation Administration officials say it is hard to justify the costs of deployable recorders versus the safety benefits.