Commercial aviation if it utilizes the black box data in real-time will make flying safer and more economical. The black box should not only be used in the autopsy mode but should be used proactively to decrease the cost of flying and the fatal crashes. Planes should also have a remote copilot in addition to the on-board for safety and economy.
A year prior to 9/11 at the International Aviation Safety Association meeting in New York, methods for preventing crashes like golfer Payne Stewart’s decompression crash were proposed. None of these methods were implemented by the aviation industry and we got 9/11 (hijacking is about ten percent of aviation fatalities) and the 2005, 100 fatality, Helios decompression crash. When a plane deviates from its approved flight plan, we now have the ability to securely take remote control of it and land it safely at a designated airfield. We presently have remote pilot vehicles (RPVs) flying over Afghanistan that are controlled/piloted from continental United States (CONUS). Currently we are utilizing secure high bandwidth communication networks (for our RPVs, submarines, AWACS planes, etc.) and there isn't a logical reason for not making that technology available for cargo and carrier aircraft. The cost of 9/11 alone is ten times the cost of putting in a safe system and yet nothing has intentionally been done.
When a plane decompresses there is a good possibility that if we remotely bring it down in altitude to a point where there is sufficient oxygen and fly it remotely for 15 minutes, the pilot and passengers may regain consciousness. At that time the control of the aircraft could be returned to the pilot or remotely landing it to save the lives of the people who are onboard. This would have saved the lives of those aboard Helios.
Too many crashes are listed as pilot error when they are a direct result of a lack of visibility brought on by not sharing the digital flight data/Black Box in real-time to provide the necessary situation awareness. Many of the fatal in-air crashes fall into the same category. For example there was a crash where a plane ran out of fuel over JFK. The controller thought the pilot had more fuel left and the pilot who said his fuel was low didn’t use the correct emergency verbiage. Since the fuel supply is another black box input there is no reason why a red light, similar to the one on everyone’s car, doesn’t light up on the ATC display. The red low fuel light would reduce the controller’s work load and increase his situation awareness so that the people aboard a flight similar to the one that crashed would now live. Using the Black Box data decreases the work load of the pilot the air traffic controller as well as increases their situation awareness. By the lack of sharing the already digitized data in real-time we have egregiously curtailed the use of automation and expert systems technology for the prevention of crashes, increased the cost of flying and jeopardized our national security. The real-time use and sharing of the DFDR data to prevent crashes is more important then its present post mortem autopsy mode of operation.
By the use of expert systems the problems aboard Air France Flight 447 would have been automatically recognized and with one second provided the pilots with the method to safely handle the situation and thus prevented the fatal crash. We do this for our astronauts (that is how they got back from the moon) and there is not technical reason for not providing this to the travelling public. The flight recorder data can be transmitted every second to the ground giving the planes position, velocity and attitude. Getting to the crash site quickly and efficiently can in many cases save lives. This technology has been available for over ten years and hasn’t been pushed by the NTSB, FAA or Airline Association since they felt that the few crashes per year failed their economic analysis. So they have flagrantly let it drop. Yet when we review all of the economies that this technology brings to aviation the reverse is true. Airlines pay only a small fraction of the cost of a crash. The cost for installing and running real-time aircraft black box data is one tenth of the 9/11 crash alone (see http://www.safelander.com) . The real-time utilization of the black box data could have prevented that disaster as well as the vast majority of fatal crashes.
So now, 3/8/2014, we have the breaking news that a Malaysia Airlines, Flight MH370, Boeing 777-200 aircraft carrying 239 people is missing. Another plane down, like Air France Flight 447 and we are going through the same problems that could have been solved over ten years ago.
The already digitized data used in real-time allows the use of automated expert systems to check many of an aircraft’s sensors prior to, and during, a flight to assure that everything is functioning correctly without having a person in the loop. When a malfunction is detected it can automatically inform the pilot and ATC as to the best way to work a round a malfunction. Using cross checks and correlation most of the sensors can be checked and work a round’s provided to the flight deck crew for safe transportation. It will also automatically notify the ground operational center of expected malfunctions and the safest work a round’s using a history file that should be followed. By so doing, the pilot’s work load will be reduced and his performance enhanced. Also, it would save the time and cost of retrieving the recorder data and analyzing it (see AirFrance, flight 447, 228 fatality crash into the Atlantic in 2009). It would also assure that the recording data is correct since it would be automatically checked the performance data at flight time and during the flight (this could prevent some of the fatal crashes).
Sy Levine Sr. Life Member of the IEEE
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