Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Air-Safety Regulators Want Better Plane-Tracking Kit Installed Sooner; European Agency Calls For Longer-Life, Longer-Range Beacons By 2018, 2019

The Wall Street Journal

By Robert Wall

May 6, 2014 7:57 a.m. ET

European aviation safety regulators want to hasten the introduction of improved "black boxes" on commercial airliners after the fruitless search so far for Malaysia Airlines  Flight 370 has highlighted shortcomings with the existing technology.

The mandatory operational life of beacons attached to flight-data recorders should be extended to 90 days from 30 days two years earlier than initially planned, the Cologne-based European Aviation Safety Agency said today. Airplanes traversing oceans should also carry beacons with greater range, EASA said.

"The proposed changes are expected to increase safety by facilitating the recovery of information by safety investigation authorities," EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky said. "The tragic flight of Malaysia Airlines MH370 demonstrates that safety can never be taken for granted."

Authorities have been searching without success for the wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER that vanished en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur on March 8 with 239 people on board. Lapses in coordination among countries and companies trying to find the plane have repeatedly hobbled the two-month-old search.

The flight-data recorders that store information vital to crash investigations come with beacons designed to aid search teams trying to locate the devices.

In its latest opinion, which is not yet a binding requirement for the industry, EASA said it wants aircraft to feature beacons with a 90-day minimum transmission to give search teams more time to recover the devices. The technology should be introduced by 2018 rather than by 2020 as previously planned.

The beacons on the Malaysia Airlines flight had a 30-day transmission life so search teams had only a few days to locate the short-range signal after delays in narrowing the area where the plane is suspected to have crashed.

EASA also wants airliners flying more than 180 nautical miles over water to have an additional beacon transmitting at a different frequency with greater detection range from 2019. An alternative is to equip the aircraft with other technology to pinpoint the location of a crash site to within 6 nautical miles, the agency said.

The regulator also is requiring that cockpit voice recorders be upgraded to store 20 hours of conversation, rather than just two hours as is currently the case.

EASA had already proposed an increase to 15 hours, but has extended the storage requirement to capture the entire duration of long-range flights. It is giving industry an extra year to comply with the stricter standard that should now lead to the installation of such recorders on planes from 2020.

 Source:  http://online.wsj.com