What should Recorders/Transmitters Capture to Add to our Aviation Safety Knowledge?

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Aviation safety has found great advantages to collecting and analyzing data. Airplanes, their engines, avionics and other systems constitute a data rich environment. Information technology can capture all of these units of performance, but for what gain? The below article assumes that an infinite capture of numbers is a good goal, but is it?

Currently all commercial aircraft are equipped with a Cockpit Voice Recorder and a Flight Data Recorder (see above photograph). The CVR is a relatively basic machine for it captures and protects the voices and other audible sounds where the pilots are working. An FDR is more complex. It, too, must sustain a massive shock of a crash and the extreme temperatures involved. It has 88 channels of data which it records and preserves as long as its battery sustains it. 

This system of collecting adequate facts needed to assess why an accident occurred has proven its utility. It has been asserted that the MH-370 justifies an expansion of the capabilities of these systems and the Emergency Locator Transmitter. One incredibly tragic incident among a much larger universe of safe flights or even accidents in remote places does not justify change.

The writer for Tech Page One, for example, suggests that an improvement might be to remove these recorders and substitute a radio which would transmit a much expanded list of parameters to satellites to be stored in computers. That’s an interesting idea, but is there any correlation between the proposed technology and any real advance to safety regulation and/or accident investigation? The cost of a transmitter with such a large number of data lines may not be astronomical but the computer capacity to retain such numbers may be very large.

Both ICAO and EASA have initiated studies of what makes sense in the collection and retention of these data points. Their analyses are far more likely to result in practical solutions rather than idle speculation.

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