Pilot and journalist Miles O’Brien — you may recognise him from CNN — has a nice article at Reuters about what might have happened to Air France flight 447, the Airbus A330 that disappeared between Brazil and Paris on Sunday night.
But the most interesting question is at the end:
Why not send steady streams of telemetry from airliners to the ground all the time — a la the space shuttle? This effectively places the “black boxes,” safe and sound — on the ground. Imagine how invaluable that much data would be right now — given the distinct possibility this could remain an unsolved mystery.
That’s an excellent question. Given how advanced communication technology is these days, it seems like a smart idea for airliners to constantly feed home base as much information as possible: Its location and position, how flight and peripheral systems are working, how many people are using the bathroom, what movies are popular, etc. Especially the safety stuff.
I can think of four reasons why airlines aren’t doing this already: Because it’s almost always data they’ll throw out immediately after the plane lands safely, because radio spectrum may be scarce and unreliable, because they aren’t required to do it by law, and because it’s the last information they’d want slipping into the wrong hands.
But so what? These seem like problems that can be worked out. Now, as O’Brien points out, we’re potentially in a worse situation: Not knowing if the A330 is safe to fly in certain conditions. So where are those data streams?