I was reading the news last week and an article concerning Air France 447 caught my attention. (Tail of Air France jet found in Atlantic at cnn.com) To bring you back up to speed, on June 1st, 2009, Air France Flight 447 left Rio de Janeiro in Brazil on its way to Paris. Over the Atlantic, the flight tragically disappeared.
Last week, after two years of searching, the French government located the debris field and began the arduous task of recovering the aircraft.
So after reading the article, it occurred to me:
With a network of satellites circling the globe, how can we lose an aircraft and know nothing about what happened?
After researching it a bit, I learned that the plane did, in fact, communicate information and events while en route though a maintenance system called Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) - designed to provide advance warning of maintenance topics. While this system provided some insight into what was going onboard the flight at the time, it turned out to be inconclusive.
To gain an accurate picture of what really happened, the onboard data recorders needed to be recovered and analyzed. Until that happens, we are left to question what led to the catastrophic events of that day. Was it a malfunction in the plane’s electronics? A failure of the plane’s fuselage? Or something totally unforeseen? Until that information is analyzed, we don’t actually know why this happened, or if it potentially could again.
With our massive communications infrastructure and virtually limitless computing resources, I am perplexed as to why something like an airplane is not monitored in real-time. We should know where it is, if it is on its proper course, if the operating parameters are within norm, or if a series of DNA markers are showing potential trouble, and hence the need for human intervention. We do a better job of monitoring trucks on the highway or shipping containers in our ports.
The information from each and every black box should be transmitted and analyzed while the plane is in the air. We are now in the age of global connectivity. M2M (machine-to-machine) technology is connecting us to everything and giving us the tools to predict failure and to avoid it. I for one would like to see this technology used in our air travel – some things you just have to know NOW!