Airbus studying off-board flight data and cockpit voice recording

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Planemaker Airbus says it is studying ways of “reinforcing flight data recovery” so that in the event of accidents critical flight information can be recovered and released to the investigating authorities.

The announcement comes in the wake of two plane crashes at sea in June in which the flight data and cockpit voice recorders were lost in deep water.

The recorders of an Air France Airbus A330-200 that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1 have yet to be located, while those on an Airbus A310-300 that crashed off the Comoros on June 30 have been tentatively found but must still be recovered.

Airbus CE Tom Enders says the study includes, but is not limited to, extended data transmission for commercial airliners.

“Gathering information from accidents is vitally important to further improve the safety of flying. Various technical means for reinforcing flight data recovery and data transmission to ground centres are principally available.

“We will now study different options for viable commercial solutions, including those where our experience with real-time data transmission from our own test aircraft could support the further development of such solutions,” Enders added.

His comments echo those of British Airways Chief Information Officer Paul Coby who last week intimated the crash of the two airliners may cause airlines to duplicate flight data and cockpit voice recorders offboard their aircraft.

Speaking to journalists at airline IT vendor SITA`s annual Air Transport IT Summit in Cannes, France, Coby said the idea “ought to be seriously thought about because the technology is available to make it possible.”

Many modern airliners now routinely transmit maintenance and administrative data to the airline home office in flight and cockpit data can easily be added to the stream.

The Airbus study will be conducted by Head of Airbus Engineering Patrick Gavin and Charles Champion, Head of Customer Services.

Airbus adds it “will need to address technological issues as well as data protection and privacy concerns.”

The company will include industrial partners, research institutions, and international airworthiness and investigation authorities in the study.

Airbus adds that recovering these recorders when aircraft are lost “continues to be a major challenge for the entire aviation community.

“Today`s existing air-to-ground links for ‘Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System` (ACARS) maintenance data transmission do not offer the bandwidth that would be needed for a fully real-time transmission of all the data stored in the digital flight data recorder (DFDR) and cockpit voice recorders (CVR).”

“The DFDR collects data from aircraft systems, while the CVR records crew conversation and aural warnings. Presently, the only possible means to retrieve information from the DFDR and CVR is to process them on ground with very specific ground tools. DFDR and CVR do not transmit real time information – that responsibility is managed and controlled by the investigation authorities.”

Pic: An Airbus A330. Cred: Airbus