Saturday, February 07, 2015

Duncan bill would require ejectable, floatable black boxes on planes

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. has been fighting for years to require airlines to equip commercial aircraft with technology that will make it easier to find a plane when it crashes.

The airline industry has resisted, and Congress has been reluctant to force the issue.

But the disappearance of the still-missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 over the South China Sea last March and other recent aviation disasters have led aviation experts to again call for airlines to fit their planes with the data recorders. Duncan is hoping the renewed attention will also cause Congress to finally force the airlines to put the technology on all domestic flights.

“To me, it just makes sense,” the Knoxville Republican said. “I think it should have been done a long time ago.”

Duncan filed legislation Thursday that would require airlines to install ejectable “black box” data recorders on all newly manufactured aircraft in the United States. A similar bill filed by U.S. Rep. David Price, D-N.C., would direct the Federal Aviation Administration to require passenger aircraft to be equipped with tracking technology.

The boxes, already widely used by the Air Force and Navy and other military aircraft around the world, are located on the exterior of the plane. They pop off during a crash and immediately transmit a signal identifying the location of the crash site, enabling search crews to find the plane quickly and giving investigators speedy access to critical data.

The boxes also float, which would make it easier to find them when a plane crashes in the ocean or another large body of water.

“Had Malaysia 370 been equipped with a deployable flight recorder, it would have likely led to the plane’s discovery and provided closure for the families of those on board,” Duncan said. “It also could have saved many millions of dollars in search costs that are still being accrued and possibly provide answers critical to preventing a future crash.”

The National Transportation Safety Board first recommended in 1999 that Congress mandate the technology on all commercial planes, but it is not currently used on any commercial aircraft in the world.

That is about to change.

The European manufacturer Airbus announced last month that it will start equipping its two largest jetliners — the A350 and A380 — with the ejectable black boxes.

And this week, airline officials at an international aviation safety summit in Montreal agreed in principle to add ejectable, floatable black boxes on all commercial jetliners. The International Civil Aviation Organization, which sets airline standards and regulations, is expected to ratify the proposal in November.

Jim Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, applauded Duncan and Price for pushing Congress to mandate what he said are “common-sense and low-cost aviation safety upgrades.”

“Several crashes have occurred over the last six years, let alone the 14 years since I was chairman, that continue to demonstrate the need for these technology upgrades,” Hall, who is from Chattanooga, said in a statement. “Floating recorders, distress signals, 25-hour cockpit voice recorders and cockpit image recorders are all existing, ready-to-install technologies.”

Airbus’s decision to install the boxes on its jetliners and the International Civil Aviation Organization’s likely endorsement of the technology could provide the momentum needed to get Congress to act, said Duncan, who sits on the House Aviation Subcommittee and is its former chairman.

“When you’re talking about these bigger crashes, people want to know and need to know as much as they can (about what happened),” he said. “This is just one small way to make international aviation even safer. It should have been done a long time ago.”

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