Use of Black Boxes
The flight data recorder also known as the accident data recorder is an electronic gadget that is tasked to record instructions sent to any systems in a plane during flight. However, these days they have transformed to include more information other than just electronic signals. The device records certain parameters during flight which are then analyzed to determine the cause of accident, engine performance and material degradation. The cockpit voice recorder is another type of flight recorder. It stores communication between the cockpit personnel and other employees on the plane. It also records conversations between the cockpit crew and the air traffic control crew members. The most recommended flight recorder is the C124b which is known as the Flight Data Recorder Systems.
The flight data recorders are commonly referred to as the black box. They are extremely crucial when it comes to investigating air transport accidents. Due to this, they are carefully engineered according to ICAO standards and are strong and can withstand extreme crush and weather conditions. Recovering the black box and its contents is normally a priority for the aviation administrations. The first `black box` was tested in France back in 1939 by Paul Beaudouin. The fist flight data recorder was photographic and used a less sophisticated technology compared to the modern day black box. The transformation and improvement of the flight data recorder over the years has played a crucial role in air transport accidents investigations. It has helped operators and aviation engineers come up with ways of preventing aero accidents and improving aircraft performance.
Employees understanding of the flight data recorder
The flight management and operations personnel are the ones responsible for the ensuring that there is a smooth flight. A mistake in the side of this party could result to fatal consequences. There are several aircraft accidents across the globe that involved negligence in the side of employees (Tsang & Voss, 1996). Therefore, it is crucial for the personnel to be on their best and ensure that there are no incidents. Employees are also supposed to ensure that the aircraft is in good condition before take off. The management has to ensure that all legal requirements have been fulfilled one of them being that the flight data recorder is functioning properly. However, because flight crew members other than the pilot are not required by law to know about the flight data recorder this becomes a less crucial issue to them. It is crucial for them to learn the advantages of the black box (Mann & Shifrin, 1996).
It will help in ensuring that the latter is adequately protected and that it is always functioning. Therefore, in case of an accident, the relevant authorities could know what caused the accident and ensure that such circumstances are prevented in coming flights to help reduce aircraft accidents (Tsang & Voss, 1996). On the other hand, the flight data recorder ensures their own safety since it records the aircraft performance and can help determine the state of the aircraft and whether or not it is suit for flight. Modern day flight data recorder alongside flight data monitoring devices can be used to record crew members habits (Campbell, 2007). Understanding this fact could help flight management and operations personnel avoid habits that are unacceptable hence reducing the probability of an accident or any other aircraft incident.
Regulations and legislations governing flight data recorders
Different countries and regions have adopted varying regulations with regard to flight data recorders. This is due to the presence of different law making bodies and legislations present in countries across the globe. However, there are generally accepted practices and standards that are recognized internationally. The design of flight data recorders is internationally governed by regulations outlined in the ICAO Annex 6. The organization offers standards and quality practices that must be observed in making flight data recorders. The European Organization for Civil Aviation Equipment has adopted the standards prescribed by ICAO Annex 6 with regard to industry fire protection specs and crashworthiness of flight data recorders (Federal Aviation Administration, 2012b).
The documents that the European Union recognizes wit regard to the quality and use of flight data recorders include EUROCAE ED56 fiken A, ED112 and ED55. These regulations offer the direction of use and quality standards that aviation officers must observe with regard to flight data recorders. In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration offers direction for use and quality (Campbell, 2007). This includes the type of planes that must be fitted with flight data recorders. However, most of the requirements and procedures cited by the FAA are derived from the EUROCAE documents. This is also the case with most countries across the globe (Federal Aviation Administration, 2012a).
Quality and functionality of flight data recorders
The speed and quality of aircrafts keep on changing over the years. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that the flight data recorders keep up this space. According to the latest EUROCAE directives, a flight data recorder must be able to withstand accelerations of up to 3400 g. this enables them survive even the worst air crushes since such a recorder can withstand up to a crush velocity or impact velocity of 310 mph. these recorders cam also handle sharp decelerations and short crushing distances. The flight data recorders should also be able to withstand extreme conditions with regard to temperature, statics, pressure and immersion (Federal Aviation Administration, 2012b).
The input method adopted by modern day flight data recorders is also effective and efficient. They receive their input from the Flight Data Acquisition Units. They record substantial parameters during the flight. This includes engine conditions at given times of the day. Until 2002, only 29 parameters were to be recorded according to the law. However, the FAA and other aviation administration bodies revised that directive to bring the parameters up to 88. This is because the technology accommodates more parameters (Campbell, 2007). In fact, there are other flight data recorders that record more parameters than the number required by law. The EUROCAE documents and the FAA state all flight data recorders must be checked every year to make sure that all the required parameters are recorded (Federal Aviation Administration, 2012a).
In order to avoid negligence and to increase efficiency and competence in the side of employees, there has been an introduction of flight data monitoring initiatives. These programs help to analyze the level of fuel consumption and hazardous habits by crew members. Data from flight data monitoring equipment and flight data recorders is transferred to a device which is used to investigate accidents. Information recorded by the cockpit voice recorder can be transferred via radio or satellite since it is usually in voice format. On the other hand, it is advisable to place the flight data recorder at the rear of the airplane. This reduces the shock affects the flight data recorder since the front of the plane is likely to suffer the initial impact of the crush. These days the flight data recorder is also properly wrapped to reduce the impact of crush. They are embodied in titanium or stainless steel wrappers which are corrosion resistant. They can also withstand high temperatures and are orange in color so that they can be easily located. The locator beacon is bright for it to remain detected for a period of 30 days immersed to a depth of about 20,000 ft. with respect to the type of aircraft required to have flight data recorders, virtually all passenger aircrafts are supposed to have a cockpit voice recorder and a black box according to the FAA. This is also the requirement in most countries across the globe (Federal Aviation Administration, 2012b).
Federal Aviation Administration rules applicable to the use of flight data recorders
14 CFR 91.609 – Flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders
All rules governing the use of data recorders are encompassed under this part of the FAA regulations. According to section A of the regulations, no air carrier will be allowed to carry out operations without a cockpit voice recorder and a black box. The regulations give an exception to the event where such equipment requires repair and cannot be repaired at the current location of the aircraft (Davidoff, 2010). In this situation the carrier is allowed to fly to a place where repairs to the equipment can be made. In the event that the flight data recorders become inoperative while on air, the carrier is allowed to continue with the scheduled flight (Federal Aviation Administration, 2012a).
Another situation where a carrier is allowed to take off without a flight data recording device is to fly from a place of purchase to the place of installation where the recorders will be installed. At certain instances, a carrier or operator may choose to conduct a test to determine whether or not the communications and electrical system of a carrier works. The operator is allowed to conduct such test flights with the data recorders off. While there are exceptions to the rule of flight data recorders, the aircraft is not expected to work with a turned off or non operative data recorders for more than 15 days. However, the craft maintenance manifest must indicate the date of failure. The pilot must ensure that there is a placard on the cockpit to indicate that the cockpit voice recorder and other flight data recorders have malfunctioned (Federal Aviation Administration, 2012a).
If the pilot has observed these conditions, the pilot is entitled to a timeframe extension to obtain a replacement for the malfunctioned equipment within the additional 15 days. All these must be recorded in the aircraft maintenance checklist. The FAA regulations also expect that all aircrafts manufactured later than 11[th] October which have a passenger seating configuration must have an approved digital flight data recorder. However, the rules exclude those aircrafts that incorporate more than 10 pilots. With this respect, the FAA has been limiting the quality and technology of flight data recorders based on the year of carrier manufacture (Federal Aviation Administration, 2012a).
For example, at the moment all planes that were made before 7[th] April 2007 must have a flight data recorder which has the capability to handle 25 hours of flight information. These are recorders which meet the qualities outlined in TSO-C124a or a better version. It is crucial to understand the fact that the FAA emphasizes the installation of both the cockpit voice recorder and the black box. According to these regulations, cockpit voice recorders must be fitted in any aircraft with a passenger sitting configuration. This is a rule that was passed on 11[th] October 1991. This is a clear indication that since 1991, the United States government has worked towards ensuring the safety of air transport by utilizing flight data recorders (Federal Aviation Administration, 2012a).
Costs and benefits of flight data recorders
The black box is expected to record parameters during a flight to help determine the cause of a mishap in case of an accident. For operators and aviation authorities such information is extremely crucial. This is because it helps them avoid further accidents. After the cause of an accident is determined such information is crucial in coming up with ways of avoiding such instances. An operator who does not appreciate the use of black boxes and is free to do so and does not install the flight data recorders is likely to incur a lot of losses as a result of accidents. The reason for this is lack of enough data to avoid them. Therefore, for most operators, the installation of flight data recorders is not only driven by the legal framework but also their economic benefits (Campbell, 2007). Some of the commercial airlines that have found it useful and crucial to apply the use of back boxes and other monitors is the France airline to help it curb accidents (Rapoport, 2011).
Operators are also cautious to avoid the liability involved with accidents. Such liabilities include legal suits for compensation and the need to come p with a crisis aversion strategy. For this group of airplanes the concept of fitting back boxes is likely to be a small deal due to the huge revenue and economies of scale enjoyed by air transport companies` world wide (Rapoport, 2011). However, there are challenges that come along with the installation and maintenance of black boxes. First, they are to ensure that the flight data recorders are repaired as soon as possible in the event of a malfunction (Davidoff, 2010). This makes the installation and maintenance of black boxes not only a high expense but also a recurrent one.
Before looking at the costs associated with the maintenance and purchase of black boxes, it is crucial to understand that rules governing flight safety change from time to time. Take for example an operator who has a plane manufactured before 7[th] April 2007 he will have to do a lot of changes on the aircraft just in the name of installing the new mode of black box (James, 1996). Therefore, the fact that rules keep changing shows that the use of black boxes is an expensive affair. Unlike the previous versions of the black boxes, the new black box model records more parameters. This means it is more sophisticated and expensive due to the technology (Sibaja & Keller, 2009).
In the United States, most aircraft owners and operators have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of black boxes. However, most of them have to deal with the cost. It is crucial to understand that, those aircrafts which are not allowed to have black boxes are extremely small. These planes do not encounter long flying hours and therefore, there might be little change in parameters during the flight. On the other hand, those planes that have been excluded from installing flight data recorders some of them do not have the technology required to handle the standard black box (Federal Aviation Administration, 2012b). The liability involved when these aircrafts are involved in an accident is low. This is because in most cases they do not carry passengers.
Future improvements to flight data recorders
At its current position, one can say that the technology used in making the `black box` has reached its peak. The incorporation of flight data monitors has made the investigation of aircraft accidents extremely easy. The initial purpose of flight data recorders was to help determine the cause of accidents (Garcia, 2009). However, they have gone a long way to help determine the aircraft performance and events in the aircraft. However, the process of investigating the cause of accidents has not become that `easy` with the black box in play. Therefore, it is critical to make more improvement to come up with a more comprehensive data recording method (Campbell, 2007). This includes the use of video and real time data transmission from the airplane to the traffic control employees. This will make the process of aircraft accident investigation easier. On the other hand, developing countries have extremely little of this technology with regard to using flight data recorders and accident investigation materials to determine the reason for accidents. Simplifying this technology will go a long way to help them acquire the technology.
The flight data recorder is an extremely crucial part of an aircraft. The United States Federal Aviation Administration has made provisions to govern the use of flight data recorders. According to its regulations, all passenger aircrafts must be fitted with a black box and a cockpit voice recorder. The two are recovered in the event of an accident and the information stored in them is used to carry out investigations for the cause of the accidents. Modern day flight data recorders are designed in such a way that they are capable of recording information from technical errors to personnel negligence. The ICAO prescribes standards and practices that must be observed in the design of flight data recorders so that they cannot be destroyed even in extreme crush and weather conditions. Most countries adopt their regulations relating to the flight data recorders and their use. Most of the regulations used by the Federal Aviation Administration are derived from EUROCEA documents. Apart from observing their legal obligations flight management and operation personnel have a moral obligation to understand the importance of the `black box` to help reduce aircraft accidents and other incidents. Theretofore, operators should go out of their way to ensure that flight attendants and cockpit crew understand the importance of flight data recorders.
Campbell, N. (2007). The Evolution of Flight Data Analysis, Proc. Australian Society of Air Safety Investigators conference
Davidoff, S. (2010) “The Government`s Elite and Regulatory Capture” The New York Times. June 11
Federal Aviation Administration (2012a). Regulations. Accessed 4[th] March 2013 from http://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/faa_regulations/
Federal Aviation Administration (2012b). RTCA SC-214 / EUROCAE WG-78 Standards for Air Traffic Data Communication Services. Accessed 4[th] March 2013 from http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/ato/service_units/techops/atc_comms_services/sc214/
Garcia, M. (2009). Clouds, Computers and Composites: The New Crisis in Aviation. Counterpunch
James, O. (1996). A Broader Plan, Not a `Silver Bullet`. Aviation Week & Space Technology pp. 32-34
Mann, P. & Shifrin, C. (1996). Clinton Heightens Aviation Security Aviation Week and Space Technology July 29. p. 29
Rapoport, R. (2011). The Rio/Paris Crash: Air France 447. Lexographic Press.
Sibaja, M. & Keller, G. (2009). “Air France says it`s replacing flight instruments”. The Boston Globe. Associated Press
Tsang, P.S., & Voss, D.T. (1996). BOUNDARIES OF COGNITIVE PERFORMANCE AS A FUNCTION OF AGE AND FLIGHT EXPERIENCE. International Journal of Aviation Psychology, 6, 359-377.
AERONAUTICS Use of Black Boxes