A Modest Proposal: Airline Safety

IMG_1922This isn’t about selling babies to rich gentlemen so that they can enjoy eating them since that has previously been proposed. It has to do with the periodic problem of airplane crashes.

Again we have the tragedy of an airline crash that seems to have caused much confusion and many deaths. In its aftermath we learn they are looking for the fight recorders called the black boxes that are on every commercial plane. Here one was found but it was damaged; as best I can tell the other is still being searched for.

When the Russian shot down Malaysian Air Flight 17 over Ukraine the Russian sponsored rebels took control of the black boxes. For a while it was touch and go whether they would return them for analysis.

A few months before that in March last year Malaysian Air Flight 370 disappeared. It is believed to have crashed some place in the South Pacific hundreds of miles off the coast of Australia  Then we have the planes that slammed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The similarity between those crashes and Flight 370 is that the black boxes were never recovered.

One of these black boxes records everything that is said or heard in the cockpit of the airplane; the other records all the data relating to the mechanical operations of the plane and of the flight such as the course and altitude. When a plane crashes to learn what may have been the cause of the tragedy resort is had to these boxes. They often will be critical in deciding what happened.

When the German airliner went down in France earlier this week subsequent news reports told us “Reports from Flightradar24, which tracks air traffic around the world, said the Airbus climbed to 38,000ft . . . .”   I found that quite interesting because it shows my proposal is really doable.

Another thing that shows the validity of my proposal happens every time I’m driving my car and I decide to look for a business or address. I say to my smart phone: “where is the nearest Starbucks?” I soon get an answer and if I ask for directions my friend Gypsy (GPS) starts giving me turn by turn instructions while at the same time following me as I travel merrily along to get my coffee showing each street that I pass.  Walking on a beach the other day (yes,  there’s no snow and plenty of heat where I am) Gypsy showed me exactly where I was in relation to a place I was looking for.

Gypsy or GPS is somewhere up in space as part of the Global Positioning System that tracks our every move if we wish. Millions of us are in contact with her daily. She, or someone like her, helps our smart bombs and cruise missiles find their targets and lets drones flying in Yemen be controlled from Nevada. This too points to the feasibility of my proposal.

I propose that rather than putting black boxes into airplanes we transmit the data from the plane up to satellites where the information could be stored and easily retrieved when necessary? Why aren’t all cockpit matters and conversations transmitted up and stored until a flight has safely landed or for a small period after that. Why isn’t every speck of data about a planes flight similarly transmitted?

There’s no doubt the technology to do this exists. There’s no doubt that the benefits of immediately accessing that information which is safe and secure is a thousand times better than the present way of trying to find those black boxes.

I am at a loss to explain why this simple solution has not been put into effect after all these years. These flight recorders were invented in the late 1930s, put into widespread use in the 1960s. Is there any logical reason we continue to keep this important information in places where it can be lost or destroyed?

I suggest not. I’m sure others have thought about this before so why isn’t it done. Unlike Swift’s proposal, mine I would like to think will save babies lives.

2 thoughts on “A Modest Proposal: Airline Safety

  1. Or do both. Redundancy with a purpose.

    If a single recording (black box or satellite) could somehow be flawed, then what one device fails to record and store may be recorded and stored on the other.

    I believe this approach would work as long as the problem doesn’t lie with the source or the transmission.

    A nice, modest proposal, Matt.

  2. Why Planes Vanish:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/space/why-planes-vanish.html

    The disappearance of Flight MH370 stunned the world. In an era of smart-phones and GPS, how could a 270-ton passenger jet vanish into thin air? It was a rude awakening for all of us, showing just how far we are from the world we imagined we lived in—in which every move is monitored all the time. NOVA tells the inside story of the search for Flight MH370 and meets the key players from all corners of the globe who have spent months searching for the lost plane. In the search for answers, we’ll reveal how today’s planes must fly through vast radar “blind spots,” and investigate new technologies that could allow ground stations and satellites to track planes automatically, without pilot intervention, even in remote areas with no radar coverage. What will it take to guarantee that in the future, nothing will ever be ‘lost’ again?

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