Plan for black boxes to eject into the blue

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The A380 is just one of Airbus' fleet that would be fitted with the new technology. Photo: Roger Green, CC BY 2.0

Seven months after the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flights 370, Airbus has announced it’s nearly ready to equip revolutionary black boxes that eject from aircraft in the event of a crash.

The move comes as the aviation community continues to respond to the unprecedented disappearance of MH370, which went missing on 8 March with 239 people on board.

After months of scaling the Indian Ocean, search teams are yet to find any trace of the missing jetliner, raising calls for regulators and airlines to develop systems to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.

Talking at forum run by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the chief product security officer of Airbus, Pascal Andrei, said his company was almost ready to fit their aircraft with data and cockpit recorders that eject and float to the surface in the event of a crash, rather than being trapped in the plane’s wreckage.

Mark Smith—an accident investigator for Boeing—was however critical of the move claiming the risk associated with introducing the new technology would outweigh the benefits.

Smith raised his concerns about ‘unintended ejections’ of the new black boxes, estimating that five or six accidental ejections would be likely to occur every year.

He argued that when compared to accidents like the disappearance of MH370—an uncommon scenario only occurring once every decade—the safety risk of the new technology could result in a decrease of overall safety.

‘We need to beware of the introducing unintended consequences into the large commercial fleet that is flying,’ says Smith. ‘Unintended (ejections) from a commercial aeroplane would not be an acceptable risk and would be a risk that we would have to manage.’

As we reported back in July, a special IATA working group has been formed in conjunction with ICAO to examine options to better track commercial aircraft.

Similar to the ejection of black boxes, the working group is looking at the continual development of emergency locator transmitters (ELT) and how they can be triggered in flight during an ‘abnormal’ event like a crash.

IATA will publish the findings of the working group at the end of the year.

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