Posts Tagged ‘Black Box’
On 1 May 2011, French investigators recovered the flight data recorder from Air France Flight 447, twenty-three (23) months after the Airbus 330 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean on a flight between Rio de Janeiro and Paris. At the time of the tragic crash, and for months following, there was a great deal of speculation regarding what caused the crash. Was it mechanical failure, pilot error, or some combination of both? With the release of the information from the flight data recorder, including the full transcripts of the cockpit voice recordings, investigators now have a clear picture of what occurred. And from analysis of the retrieved data, they can make recommendations to airplane manufacturers and to pilot training programs on how reduce or eliminate these kinds of tragedies.
In the case of Flight 447, investigators did have some data from the automatic transmissions, but the data was incomplete. Over the past several decades, and as storage media has advanced from magnetic tape to solid state disk, the airline industry has been able to increase the amount of data that flight data recorders store and protect. And now, with the information from Flight 447′s flight data recorder, which was retrieved from the ocean floor, two miles below the surface, the picture is now complete.
Eye-witness accounts are notoriously unreliable, as this Stanford Journal of Legal Studies article and this APA Monitor article attest. And the stress that comes during and after disasters strike only serves to increase the unreliable nature of eye-witness testimony. When disasters strike a business and data is lost, it is sometimes possible to reconstruct data from source documents, but source documents are sometimes lost. Data can also be reconstructed from memory, but, as research shows, memories can be flawed.
For the airline industry, the capture and protection of data in flight data recorders before and during disasters, and the analysis of data after disasters, have been critical to ensuring that airlines are the safest mode of travel. Still the industry is looking to constantly improve. Imagine if, rather than 23 months, the data in the flight data recorder had been recoverable immediately. Imagine that rather than having to be found, the data could have been extracted automatically. Then the analysis of the cause and the development and modification of procedures that might prevent future tragedies could have begun almost immediately.