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Old 23rd February 2021, 07:20 PM   #1
pgwenthold
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The Black Boxes on Airlines

Whenever there is a airliner crash, the big job is finding the black boxes, the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorders.

Now that airplanes are equipped with wifi, have they started streaming the data as well? In that respect, the black boxes are just back-ups for those times when the wifi is unoperable (which certainly happens).

If they did that, then they wouldn't have to be as concerned about finding the black boxes after a crash.

It could be the case that the data rates are too slow for it to be effective, I don't know. I know that millisecond timing differences in sounds in the CVR have been used to locate the source of sounds like explosions and electrical shorts, and I don't know if that could be achieved if it were streaming.
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Old 23rd February 2021, 07:47 PM   #2
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Wifi is a local protocol. Planes in the air have no nearby wifi receiver to send to.

Your question is probably best relegated to thirty or forty years ago: Why don't they just transmit their entire dataset in realtime to some satellite network?
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Old 23rd February 2021, 07:48 PM   #3
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And the answer, of course, is that there is no record of truth quite like a complete local record to a fault tolerant and damage-impervious medium.
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Old 23rd February 2021, 07:58 PM   #4
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Some are doing that now. See FLYHT Aerospace Solutions.
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Old 23rd February 2021, 08:07 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by RecoveringYuppy View Post
Some are doing that now. See FLYHT Aerospace Solutions.
It'll be interesting to see what they've put in place to guarantee accurate records up to the moment of truth, without possibility of interference or data loss, and whether it's worth the cost. Also it's not clear to me that FLYHT is doing black box solutions. But then, their website animations were giving me seizures so I'm not sure if I grasp their offerings entirely. Are they using Wifi?

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Old 23rd February 2021, 08:10 PM   #6
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dup
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Old 23rd February 2021, 08:12 PM   #7
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I can't imagine this is the most pressing concern for airlines right now so I don't see anyone rushing to this. Very few airliners crash, most of the time the FDRs are found easily.
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Old 23rd February 2021, 08:13 PM   #8
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Exactly.
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Old 23rd February 2021, 08:26 PM   #9
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FDRs will record everything up to the instant of failure. There is lower bandwidth satellite logging which keeps track of some of the systems like engine performance, altitude/speed and now transmits GPS location data since the Malaysian ocean crash that was never recovered because they didn't know where the plane ended up. So now it's extremely likely a black box will get located and recovered.
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Old 24th February 2021, 10:59 AM   #10
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There's some real-time data to the company - when the aircraft's in range. Over mid-ocean, not so much. The airlines also generally don't want to invest in such things unless it's mandated or in their interest to do so. And as marting said, there's also a bandwidth issue. The CVR and FDR generally have a lot of channels being recorded.

Plus, for the CVR (voice recording), there's a privacy issue.
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Old 24th February 2021, 02:28 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by theprestige View Post
Wifi is a local protocol. Planes in the air have no nearby wifi receiver to send to.

Your question is probably best relegated to thirty or forty years ago: Why don't they just transmit their entire dataset in realtime to some satellite network?
Did we have wifi capability on aircraft 30 or 40 years ago? If not, I don't know what the point of this comment is.
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Old 24th February 2021, 02:44 PM   #12
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There are quite a few airliners up there at any given moment. Sounds like a lot of potential bandwidth demand.
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Old 24th February 2021, 02:57 PM   #13
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Why don't they just make the whole plane out of whatever they use for the black box? Problem solved.

And what's the deal with airline food?
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Old 24th February 2021, 03:04 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by pgwenthold View Post
Did we have wifi capability on aircraft 30 or 40 years ago? If not, I don't know what the point of this comment is.
The point of that comment is that Wifi doesn't have the range necessary to do what you're talking about. Asking "now that planes have wifi..." makes no sense. Wifi doesn't actually change anything about the scenario you have in mind.

Shortwave radio with satellite relays has the range to do what you're talking about. So in terms of what you're talking about, the question would have been asked and answered 30 or 40 years ago (or more). And in fact it has been.

Wifi-equipped planes don't use wifi to stream data onto the plane. They use shortwave links to get the data onto the plane. Once the data is on the plane, wifi is used to send data from the plane to devices on the plane. The same path is followed in reverse when a passenger wants to send data off the plane: Wifi from their device to the plane, then shortwave radio from the plane to the Internet.

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Old 24th February 2021, 03:07 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by Sideroxylon View Post
There are quite a few airliners up there at any given moment. Sounds like a lot of potential bandwidth demand.
For wifi? Only if they're all right on top of each other. The bandwidth demand from all the passengers inside a single plane, for access to the plane's wifi access points, would be the real issue there.

---

But now I wonder how much of a bandwidth hit there was to the satellite relay infrastructure, of planes now connecting their passengers to the Internet.
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Old 25th February 2021, 04:36 AM   #16
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MH370 reignited interest in real-time data streaming, and led to calls to extend the ICAO policy to require airlines to track their aircraft at shorter than fifteen minute intervals.
As has been stated unrecovered FDRs are rare, there have been seven such incidents in the last ten years, with eleven of the fourteen recorders either never recovered or unusable due to damage.
The most favoured option is 'triggered transmission' with no constant datastream, except for location and velocity, but any unusual event triggering an immediate dump. Though there are suggestions that constant data flow will provide useful fuel usage and other data which may have long term benefits when analysed.
The newer data recorders (since ~2019) in addition to merging FDR/CVR functions (and thus providing redundancy) explicitly support real-time streaming as an industry standard add-on layer. This year all commercial aircraft operating in the EU require certain enhancements to recorder function, such as the 25 hours CVR.
In conjunction with lower cost datalinks, using lower orbit satellites like Iridium, the service will become less of the economic imposition that airlines have complained of.
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Old 25th February 2021, 04:36 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by Cavemonster View Post
And what's the deal with airline food?
Alteration in human taste due to air pressure.
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Old 25th February 2021, 05:52 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by theprestige View Post
Wifi is a local protocol. Planes in the air have no nearby wifi receiver to send to.
True, but the wifi network on the plane is connected to the internet via other communications protocols, which means that any time the plane has internet access, it could be streaming flight data to a command center. They don't equip planes with wifi if the plane doesn't have an upstream internet connection.

The challenge is primarily organizational. You want a system that can work internationally, so it doesn't have to be patchwork. You want regulatory agencies to agree on what data should be recorded how often and in what format. And in-flight internet isn't terribly reliable, you want a dedicated system that's robust. It's got to work over the middle of the ocean, since that's where it's most needed. This stuff is being worked on, but it's a pretty big task.
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Old 25th February 2021, 05:57 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by Ziggurat View Post
ÖsnipÖIt's got to work over the middle of the ocean, since that's where it's most needed. This stuff is being worked on, but it's a pretty big task.
Is it even needed?

Would have thought that continual improvement in the boxes themselves would be a better investment.
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Old 25th February 2021, 05:58 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by Darat View Post
Is it even needed?

Would have thought that continual improvement in the boxes themselves would be a better investment.
Boxes can be very hard to locate if a plane goes down over the ocean.
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Old 25th February 2021, 06:14 AM   #21
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Originally Posted by Darat View Post
Is it even needed?

Would have thought that continual improvement in the boxes themselves would be a better investment.
The new boxes have to be similar to the old ones, in terms of size, power requirement, weight and data connections; it's a global standard (with many variations).
The boxes are sometimes lost or damaged to the point of being useless, as I stated.
Modern aircraft provide local WLAN connected to the outside world by satellite datalinks, these can be used for other traffic also.
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Old 25th February 2021, 06:34 AM   #22
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Which is to say, the wifi is irrelevant to the question that's actually being asked.
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Old 25th February 2021, 06:41 AM   #23
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Originally Posted by theprestige View Post
Which is to say, the wifi is irrelevant to the question that's actually being asked.
Not really it was just a way of explaining that with many commercial flights offering internet on board they obviously have the ability now to use that to communicate other data.
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Old 25th February 2021, 06:51 AM   #24
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Originally Posted by Ziggurat View Post
Boxes can be very hard to locate if a plane goes down over the ocean.
Thatís where I think more investment would get more of a return. It seems that deep water recovery is the remaining weak area.

Beyond that do we need constant telemetry being uploaded? Looking at how well we manage to investigate the causes of crashes - especially in the larger aircraft I donít see there is a need.

Often the flight recorders data inputs are are hardwired into the planeís systems, replacing that type of integration I would have thought would require a major upgrade to existing planes.

Now if communications technology improves to the point that it could be done cheaply to existing aircraft or built into new aircraft then it may make sense to move over to a constant always-on update of telemetry.
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Old 25th February 2021, 08:37 AM   #25
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Originally Posted by Darat View Post
Thatís where I think more investment would get more of a return. It seems that deep water recovery is the remaining weak area.
Deep water recovery is a fundamentally hard problem. It's much easier to create data streaming standards than it is to make any major improvement in deep water recovery. The technology for the former is already here, it's just a matter of working out the details.

Quote:
Beyond that do we need constant telemetry being uploaded?
We don't need constant telemetry. But once you've got a connection working, it's really not hard to send data frequently. Why not? It might be useful for stuff like analyzing fuel efficiency, etc. Updating position even, say, once per second takes up very little bandwidth by today's standards.

Quote:
Looking at how well we manage to investigate the causes of crashes - especially in the larger aircraft I donít see there is a need.
Do you remember Malaysia Air 370? Telemetry would have made a huge difference in that investigation. And even in crashes like Air France 447 (went down over the Atlantic) where we recovered the black box, that still took a lot of time. We would have known much sooner how it happened if the data had streamed. If the cause had been a design flaw (ala 737 MAX), getting that information fast is really important.

Quote:
Often the flight recorders data inputs are are hardwired into the planeís systems, replacing that type of integration I would have thought would require a major upgrade to existing planes.
It would be a major upgrade to the electronics, but not the structure. And even if you just do it on new planes, that's still a step forward.

Quote:
Now if communications technology improves to the point that it could be done cheaply to existing aircraft or built into new aircraft then it may make sense to move over to a constant always-on update of telemetry.
Communications technology is improving. This is entirely doable. It's just a matter of working out the details. That's not a trivial process, since you really want a bunch of countries to agree on what frequencies to use. It can be hard, but not for technical reasons.
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Old 25th February 2021, 09:26 AM   #26
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Originally Posted by Ziggurat View Post
Do you remember Malaysia Air 370? Telemetry would have made a huge difference in that investigation.

Note flight 370 was equipped with the minimal telemetry that would have made a difference but it was apparently turned off. We don't really need a whole redesign of the system to address that.
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Old 25th February 2021, 10:24 AM   #27
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Originally Posted by Darat View Post
Not really it was just a way of explaining that with many commercial flights offering internet on board they obviously have the ability now to use that to communicate other data.
Their ability to communicate other data if they so chose existed decades before they started offering Internet on board.
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Old 25th February 2021, 03:00 PM   #28
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Originally Posted by catsmate View Post
Alteration in human taste due to air pressure.
Plus the limitations on budget and "cooking", or rather reheating, if you were on the ground it wouldn't be exactly gourmet fare. (Many years ago I worked for one of the companies that supply it to the airlines. I was an accountant, not a cook so just trivia rather than any claim of expertise).
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Old 25th February 2021, 11:03 PM   #29
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Originally Posted by catsmate View Post
Alteration in human taste due to air pressure.
Actually, it is not the air pressure that makes a difference. It is very dry air. If you want tasty airline food then wet the inside of your nose.
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