Black boxes still don’t float


After the disappearance of MH370 without trace, I’d point out, again, that just as in the case of the AF447, disaster had either floating black boxes or even just a cheap and cheerful locator buoy been fitted we would at least have something to work with (1). But apparently this is simply not a priority with the FAA or JAA. I’d note that ships have been traditionally fitted with barometrically released beacon transmitters, thereby ensuring that their release from a sinking ship.

Undoubtedly we’ll go through the same regulatory minuet of looking at design concepts provided by one or more of the major equipment suppliers whose designs will, no surprise, also be complex, expensive and painful to retrofit thereby giving the regulator the perfect out to shelve the issue. At least until the next aircraft disappears. Let’s chalk it up as another great example of regulatory blindness, which I’m afraid is cold comfort to the relatives of those onboard MH370.


1. Depending on the jurisdiction, modern airliners do carry different types and numbers of Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) beacons.These are either fixed to the airframe or need to be deployed by the crew, meaning  that in anything other than a perfect crash landing at sea they end up on the bottom with the aircraft. Sonar pingers attached to the ‘black box’ flight data and cockpit voice recorders can provide an underwater signal, but their distance is limited, about a thousand metres slant range or so.

4 responses to Black boxes still don’t float

    Mike Flannery 11/03/2014 at 7:36 am

    It cannot be beyond the ingenuity of man to fit a simple GPS tracking device to the black box. This could be cheap, simple and quick to find. It took two years to recover the black box from the Air France crash.


      Matthew Squair 11/03/2014 at 7:50 am

      There’s a pinger on the boxes that are fitted but once the battery runs down you’re back to looking for wreckage on the bottom of the ocean.

      Which is why I’d settle for a detaching lightweight foam panel, with an embedded iPod and a stonkingly large die pack.



    Even the Air France flight that was flown into the water after no in-flight break up had a debris field; and the U.S. space-based detonation detectors saw no explosion, so what’s going on here? Did the plane land in the outback, unknownst to us all?


      Matthew Squair 11/03/2014 at 5:11 pm

      The ocean is vast, it swallows up ships and aircraft all the time. And we may be looking in the wrong area, as happened with Air France.