Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight: Why Black Boxes Don’t Transmit Data in Real Time

Mar 9, 2014 5:17pm

With boats and aircraft searching thousands of square miles for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which vanished off the coast of Vietnam, officials are desperately hoping to hear the ping of the plane’s flight data recorder or black box.

Without any sign of wreckage or those two “black boxes” officials are at a loss for how or why the MH30 disappeared.

But the immense search for the plane and its black boxes that could reveal what happened just before the plane left radar has left some wondering why flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders don’t transmit their data in real time.

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If data was transmitted to an offsite location, officials would have important flight data and crucial recordings from the cockpit to help understand what happened to the aircraft and possibly its location.

However, experts say right now though it is possible for black boxes to transmit data off planes, it is unlikely to happen any time soon.

“It’s something that certainly has been looked at and the technology exists but the problem is we’ve got 50,000 to 70,000 flights per day,” said ABC aviation analyst John Nance. “If even one half of them were transmitting real time on everything and flight data recorder the bandwith would be immense.”

Nance said there aren’t enough satellites in the sky to handle the information. Additionally if airline authorities limited the transmission to only flights across the ocean, airlines would have difficulty with effectively moving their fleet, said Nance. Many planes are used on both long distance flights over water and shorter routes over land.

“This is second time in four years, when you consider the number of flights that’s infinitesimal,” Nance said. “The need doesn’t justify the expense. … Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.”

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Authorities are searching for the missing flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder. (Getty Images)

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