Air France problem shows need to improve data transmission technology
By Salim Jiwa
It has become a mystery of the deep.
Nearly one week after Air France Flight 447 disappeared en route from Rio to Paris, modern technology and the combined surveillance might of the U.S., France, Brazil and other nations has failed to find any sign of where the plane smashed into the Atlantic.
The week began with France searching closer to the Senegalese maritime controlled space but attention then shifted to an area closer to Brazil, some 650 kilometres north of the Island of Fernando de Noronha.
Brazil quickly announced it had found the plane’s grave, saying a 20-kilometre oil slick was most certainly from the stricken plane. Then it claimed to have recovered a wood pallet.
Brazil’s and the victim families’ hopes were dashed when the oil slick turned out to be much bigger than a plane would produce and then it learned the material collected did not belong to the missing aircraft either.
So a baffling new mystery has begun. What on earth happened to the plane and where is it?
And even if it is found, the most crucial task is to recover the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder. How far deep are they in an area which houses the most treacherous underwater mountain range?
French defense ministry officials said they had searched an area three times the size of Britain by Friday and found nothing that it could categorize as wreckage from the downed aircraft.
A French Falcon and an AWACS planed circled around for ten hours along with some 11 Brazilian and U.S. aircraft on Friday to no avail.
“Military aircraft have sent about 110 hours over an area covering 70 000 sq-km, or 3 times the size of the UK,” said a defense ministry communique from Paris. ” They remain committed to locating any debris from the aircraft on the surface of the water.”
Other French assets will get to the zone on Sunday.
The frigate Ventose is expected on June 7. Special vessels equipped to listen to beacon signals from the downed aircraft will also be in place on Sunday.
French attack submarine Emeraude will be near the search box early next week.
What does all this say about the current ability to recover a plane lost at sea?
It says that despite available technology, manufacturers of aircraft have not implemented more foolproof ways to detect the position of an airplane that has come down.
And new technology needs to be in place to transmit data aircraft parameter data that is currently recorded aboard the aircraft. Retrieval of the black boxes have become problematic and logistical nightmares every time an aircraft has crashed at sea.
As well, why are cockpit voices not transmitted and recorded at bases rather than kept aboard the plane? Why is video not transmitted?
If we can see people aboard the shuttle and talk to them on video, it is time for manufacturers to think of new ways to store looped video, audio and technical flight data at a base rather than aboard an aircraft.