Aviation leaders were invited by ICAO to meet last week to discuss improving airliner tracking. These conferences are mostly bureaucratic think-tanks. If you’ve ever had the pleasure, there’s a lot of podium pounding theatrics, with an expected outcome. While nobody would oppose such ideas, the bureaucrats make promises that cannot be kept.
Improved satellite tracking is a doable option. In today’s aircraft, maintenance and flight reports are transmitted regularly. A software rewriting could up the time between updates; FAA’s and aircraft manufacturer’s standards should be met; that reprogramming doesn’t interfere with normal onboard systems.
Detachable recorders are impracticable at this time for numerous reasons, e.g. the use of explosive squibs and how to deploy; a gee-whiz idea that can’t be implemented … yet.
Tamper-proof transponders are unacceptable; bureaucrats need to understand this promise is naïve. Federal Regulations dictate every piece of equipment on board the aircraft MUST be capable of being deactivated from the cockpit, no matter how small the amperage. This is a safety issue and non-negotiable at this time. It would be a safety of flight risk.
Video of the cockpit will never happen. The cockpit is the pilots’ ‘office’. To put a recorder in the flight deck poses more danger than not. Mistakes will be made when concerns of legal culpability play into a pilot’s decision making; they’ll worry that all video of their decisions will be kept on file, that any innocent choice or comment will be used by management against them – and they would be right. During the NPRM process, the pilots’ unions, aircraft manufacturers, and even some airlines would never agree.
To make idle promises doesn’t move the ball forward. If aviation organizations are serious then make suggestions that are achievable – no blank check promises. Put the people who can design real solutions at work and apply common sense. Aircraft can be made even safer, but reality must prevail.