Why haven’t black boxes in airplanes been engineered to have real-time streaming to a remote location yet?

Matthew Brown Matthew Brown Mar 22, 2019 · 2 mins read
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In recent years, dramatic aviation incidents, such as the ill-fated Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max crashes, have brought back to public attention the importance of having reliable and informative data from black boxes in airplanes. These devices, formally referred to as flight data recorders (FDRs) and cockpit voice recorders (CVRs), hold crucial information that aviation authorities use to investigate aviation accidents and incidents.

However, despite the undeniable benefits of black boxes in aviation, there remains one significant drawback: they are not engineered to have real-time streaming to a remote location yet. Instead, FDRs and CVRs are retrieved only after an incident, and their data is processed for further analysis. This delay in data transmission poses several challenges and misses some significant opportunities.

One of the main reasons why black boxes do not have real-time streaming to a remote location is that the technology to enable such a system has not been fully developed yet. The current FDRs and CVRs record numerous flight data and voice recordings in their internal memory, which are only accessible through specialized software and equipment connected to the device once it is retrieved from the wreckage.

One significant challenge with real-time data streaming is ensuring data integrity and minimizing data loss during transmission. Unlike the current black box technology, which relies on physical access to the device, real-time streaming would require a wireless communication infrastructure that can transmit accurate and reliable data instantaneously, regardless of the airplane’s location or ground infrastructure availability.

Another significant challenge is ensuring data privacy and security. Given that the data collected by black boxes is sensitive and could contain information about passengers and crew, enabling real-time streaming to a remote location poses significant security and privacy risks. As such, stakeholders must first develop security measures that safeguard data privacy while allowing access to critical flight data by authorized parties.

Despite these challenges, there are several compelling reasons why real-time streaming of black box data would significantly benefit the aviation industry. First, it would enable aviation authorities to communicate with airplanes in real-time, alerting them of any dangers or problems before they escalate into a significant incident. Second, it would provide aviation authorities with real-time updates on the whereabouts of an airplane in distress, helping them to coordinate a response quickly and efficiently. Third, it would significantly reduce the time and cost of investigating an incident by providing crucial data in real-time.

One practical solution to the challenges of real-time data streaming is to leverage next-generation communication technologies such as 5G, which offer promise in providing the speed, reliability, and security needed for real-time black box transmissions. Additionally, developing advanced algorithms that can compress and encrypt the data in real-time to minimize data loss and ensure that the transmission remains secure is crucial.

In conclusion, black boxes remain essential components of aviation safety, providing invaluable information for investigators to understand how an accident or incident occurred. However, the lack of real-time streaming presents significant challenges that must be addressed to realize the full benefits of black box technology. By leveraging the latest communication and encryption technologies, stakeholders can ensure that this critical information is transmitted instantly, safely, and accurately, ultimately saving lives and improving aviation safety.

Matthew Brown
Written by Matthew Brown
Living life to the fullest, one adventure at a time.