New black boxes easier to recover from the sea

The new flight recorders will emit signals of their exact location after crashes in the sea.
The new flight recorders will emit signals of their exact location after crashes in the sea.PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON • Aviation safety experts have long been stymied by plane crashes in the sea. The on-board recorders, known as black boxes, can be difficult to recover deep beneath the waves.

But a new generation of recorders, announced by Airbus and set to roll out on new A-350 airframes in late 2019, will make those boxes easier to retrieve. Instead of going down to the bottom with the plane, the recorder will be released and will float back to the surface. It will then send a signal that satellites can pick up, allowing searchers to pinpoint its location.

The new recorders, being developed by L3 Technologies and the Canadian subsidiary of Leonardo DRS, will combine voice and data functions in one apparatus.

Aircraft will carry both a fixed and deployable version, each storing 25 hours of cockpit voice and data on thousands of flight parameters. In the event of a crash, the deployable recorder will be released from the plane and will float to the surface of the water.

Once the box is separated from the fuselage, a satellite-based detection system will be activated.

Unlike traditional sonic locaters, the satellite-based technology instantly provides the recorder's exact position, updating regularly as it bobs on the water. DRS is designing that satellite locator to last for 150 hours. The traditional beacon on the fixed recorder in the aircraft will be upgraded to transmit for 90 days in response to regulations that go into effect next year.

Calls for flight data to be made more easily recoverable gained traction in 2014 after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Most of the wreckage, including the data and voice recorders, has not been recovered.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 01, 2017, with the headline 'New black boxes easier to recover from the sea'. Print Edition | Subscribe