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The $100,000 Device That Could Have Solved Missing Plane Mystery 461

First time accepted submitter evidencebase writes "How can an airliner simply disappear, leaving no clues? And why do we have to wait until the black boxes are found to learn what happened to Flight MH370? As this article explains, there's no good reason that flight data needs to go down with the plane, because the technology to stream it to ground, from the moment things start to go wrong, is already on the market. It can be fitted to a commercial airliner for less than $100,000. But the industry has decided that it's not worth the expense. Tell that the the families of passengers on Flight MH370."
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The $100,000 Device That Could Have Solved Missing Plane Mystery

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  • by jonwil ( 467024 ) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @07:28PM (#46459163)

    Or does it cost $100k PLUS the cost of labor and maintanence to install the device PLUS the huge cost of taking the plane out of service for x amount of time while the device is being installed (even if its installed at the same time as other maintanence is done, its still a non-zero cost)

  • Lat / Long? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CohibaVancouver ( 864662 ) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @07:30PM (#46459189)
    I can see how a constant stream of telemetry might be cost-prohibitive, but what about a squirt of data consisting of -

    - Flight Number
    - Lat / Long
    - Airspeed
    - Groundspeed
    - Altitude
    - Compass heeding

    ...sent every five minutes? At least that would give a 'last known' location.
  • by innocent_white_lamb ( 151825 ) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @07:37PM (#46459275)

    This $100,000 gadget doesn't do continuous data transmission. It starts transmitting when something goes wrong, and that's it.

    If something does go wrong and there's time for this thing to start transmitting, then wouldn't there also be time for the pilot (copilot, navigator, stewardess) to get on the radio and say "Hello, chaps on the ground. Something has gone wrong."

    If it blows up in mid-air or something like that, you won't get anything more with this device than you get without it.

    What do you gain for $100,000, then?

  • by i.r.id10t ( 595143 ) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @07:50PM (#46459405)

    Part of these resources are being provided by people or organizations or governments who just want to Do The Right Thing.

    Some more of these resources are being provided by those who see others Doing The Right Thing and thinking to themselves that "gee, if A can do it I should do it to show I'm just as good at DTRT as them".

    And the last little bit are doing it for a positive karma, so they can get away with Something Bad later on...

  • Re:Dumb author... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Megane ( 129182 ) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @07:58PM (#46459481) Homepage
    It also doesn't help that the Iridium network is completely and totally analog. That means good ol' 9600 baud modem tones. The new generation of sats starting next year will support digital communications.
  • by icebike ( 68054 ) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @08:08PM (#46459557)

    Wait, the sat service is already in place. You are simply talking about another data channel interleaved on the existing data channels these planes already stream back to the airlines and to Boeing/Airbus.

    If airlines are going to start feeding passengers internet access they surely have time to insert a few OOB packets for event recording. I believe some of this is part of ACAS data streams.

    The flight in question had GPS tracking for flight arrival information.
    It went dead the same time as everything else. (EMP pulse?)

  • by gnupun ( 752725 ) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @08:10PM (#46459575)

    Nevertheless, $100k is a lot of money. Would the passengers have been willing to pay more for the tickets so that their loved ones would have a slightly better idea where they crashed? Probably not.

    No, $100k is not a lot of money. Consider just the fuel cost: 10 hours flying time by a Boeing 747 consumes 36,000 gallons of fuel [howstuffworks.com]. That's around $100k or more.

  • by amicusNYCL ( 1538833 ) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @08:25PM (#46459681)

    Ultimately let's assume they are looking around $14B initial investment plus $50M/year continuous cost.

    Why are we assuming that? A Cessna 172 has a maximum takeoff weight of 2400 pounds, while cockpit voice recorders are required on aircraft with a MTOW of over 12,500 pounds (5700kg). Why are we assuming that this technology to supplement a black box is going to be required on aircraft where a black box is not currently required?

    This is aside from my initial point of calling out the parent because he sounds like a black box manufacturing shill opposed to any technology that might some day replace a black box, using easily-fungible terms like "huge cost" followed up by, well, it's at least a non-zero cost.

    This is also aside from the fact that a private aircraft owner does not lose anything when his aircraft is "out of service". He's not losing passenger dollars. If I open up my Cessna or Piper for maintenance it doesn't cost me anything other than the parts. In short, exclude aircraft with a MTOW of less than 5700kg from your calculation and it will be much more realistic. Figure out how many aircraft are currently flying around with black boxes and you'll at least be in the neighborhood.

  • by Alex Zepeda ( 10955 ) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @11:26PM (#46460729)

    The slashvertisement did mention the technology used in AF 447: ACARS. MH 370 may have been equipped with ACARS as well, but if it was, it would not be transmitting via satellite as there is no sat antenna on the vanished plane (9M-MRO). In fact, Malaysia Air has been pretty cagey about whether or not 9M-MRO had ACARS. If 9M-MRO *did* have ACARS installed, and the information *could have been* received/recorded there's still the question of whether or not Malaysia Air was paying for upkeep. If Malaysia Air (who's been in financial trouble for a while now) was too cheap to pay for ACARS, why would they pay for the slashvertised product?

    Hell, 9M-MRO has Rolls Royce engines. Rolls Royce (and likely other engine manufacturers) offers remote health monitoring [aviationtoday.com] of their engines. You don't need an additional $100,000 device for basic tracking.

    Let's not forget this salient point from the slashvertisement:

    Of course, that wouldn’t yield much information if a plane is blown out of the sky by a bomb, or suffers a sudden catastrophic structural failure at cruising altitude. But in those rare cases, conventional black boxes are really the only viable technology.

God help those who do not help themselves. -- Wilson Mizner