WASHINGTON – Seven months after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 lost contact with air traffic control,aviation experts gathered to discuss how technology could help search for wreckage that disappears in deep oceans.
They met Tuesday to discuss this and other aviation obstacles at a conference about how to track planes and search-and-rescue operations after emergencies.
The National Transportation Safety Board conference focused on technological advances in flight recording and aircraft trackers. The last NTSB conference on flight recorders,commonly known as black boxes,was in 1999.
NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said the conference was spurred by improvements in technology over the last 15 years.
“There’s questions about whether there are other technologies that can help us locate an aircraft quicker,” he said. “We felt,’Let’s take a fresh look at this and see what improvements can be made.'”
The agency is accepting other ideas and information through Oct. 21.
The still-missing Malaysian plane is thought to have crashed in the Indian Ocean after disappearing on its way to Beijing. Australian ships began looking for the wreckage again this week.
“For the general public in Europe,it is incomprehensible that a commercial airline can simply disappear,” said Thomas Mickler,D.C. representative for the European Aviation Safety Agency.
Blake van den Heuvel,director of business development at DRS Technologies,said planes could use what’s called a deployable flight recorder system.
Instead of going down with a plane that crashes in deep water,a deployable black box would separate from the aircraft upon impact. The deployable recorders are able to float indefinitely,he said.
Safety experts joined engineers,accident investigators and aircraft manufacturers for the daylong event. They focused on flight regulations in the U.S. and worldwide and discussed what future changes to flight recording devices are feasible.
Other solutions presented including having planes wirelessly transmit data during flights and increasing the transmission period of underwater locator beacons,which are triggered by water and emit pings to help search teams find wreckage.
Current devices have batteries that last about 30 days.
Speakers made repeated references to Air France Flight 447,which crashed in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009. The wreckage was discovered days after the crash,but it took nearly two years to find the plane’s flight recorders and determine exactly what happened.
Mark Smith,an aircraft accident investigator for Boeing,showed the audience a chart with every underwater plane accident since 1980. Flight recorders were recovered in less than 30 days in almost all of the accidents,he said.
“This is the issue we are addressing today: the ones that take a long time to recover,” he said.
Steve Kong is a business and technical development manager at Inmarsat. The British satellite company shared satellite logs with Malaysian authorities after the plane’s disappearance.
Kong compared post-crash investigations to tracking a close relative who disappears.
“If we’re trying to locate a loved one because they’re missing,we like to know the sequence of events that led up to that disappearance,” he said.
Acting NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart emphasized the complexity of determining the sequence of events leading up to a crash.
“It’s been an illuminating day,especially from a systems perspective,” he said.
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