Real time tracking, FDR transmission needs to happen now

Scott Hamilton at Leehamnet nails it again: aviation regulators need to get off their butts and implement effective tracking and transmission of flight data, to support timely search and rescue after remote crashes.

The failure to mandate what should be a relatively cheap system installation and operation cost only encourages the news media to spin off wild misinformation, seeking to fill the news information void. In a recent post, Mr. Hamilton noted that this “… is to the great disservice and most likely distress of the families and friends of the victims on the flight….” It also substantially undermines the public’s perception of the safety of today’s passenger aviation program. Mr. Hamilton goes on to note, “…for the industry, it all comes down to costs and in this context, dead people don’t matter, only cost matters. It’s the infamous tombstone mentality that enough people have to die before there is enough of an outcry to force regulators to do the right thing and force the airlines to follow….”

A Simple & Inexpensive System

The solution is a simple combination of technology and regulation. FAA and other regulators would simply require that all commercial passenger flights operating beyond continuous radar coverage must install a system that would transmit a basic data bundle in the event of a potential emergency.

Essentially, the system would track (each second) the flight’s basic data, including latitude & longitude, altitude, indicated airspeed, pitch angle, bank angle, and heading. The system would also apply logic to identify substantial heading/speed/altitude changes within the previous 15-seconds.

A transmission of data bundles would be triggered by odd parameters, such as excessive pitch angle and/or bank angle, abnormal speeds and/or altitudes, or substantial heading/speed/altitude changes. Once triggered, data bundles would be transmitted each second.

Each data bundle would require only three basic parameters: position (lat/long), altitude, and indicated airspeed. A few additional parameters would be added to the data bundle, as appropriate; for example, if the system noted excessive pitch angle or bank angle, or substantial heading/speed/altitude changes within the previous 15-seconds, these parameters would be included in the data bundle. On the assumption that this is a flight emergency, the transmissions would continue indefinitely.

For security purposes, if the transmission was triggered during a flight, the shutoff/override authority would NOT be in the aircraft. Instead, it would be by the ground dispatch/monitor personnel, who would need to communicate with the crew via radio, satellite, ACARS etc., to ensure the transmission is an anomaly, not a real emergency.