Black Box Data Streaming Could Have Solved Malaysia Plane Mystery

If black box data from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 had been streamed live while the plane was in flight the mystery of what happened to the missing Boeing 777-200 would probably have been solved long ago. But even though the technology has existed to live stream black box data for more than a decade, airlines simply don’t do it, because they say that it costs too much.

Cost Of Streaming Black Box Data Is Low Compared To Cost Of Searches

The costs already rung up by the 26 countries searching for Malaysia Airlines plane are heavy. While no tally is yet available, the United States alone has budgeted $4 million. The two-year search for wreckage of an Air France Airbus that crashed in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009 carried a price tag of at least $40 million. So far there is no end in sight for the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 search, meaning a final cost remains impossible to estimate.

In light of such massive expenditures, the few thousand dollars per flight — mostly in time used on a satellite to gather the data and beam it back to Earth — that experts say it would cost to live stream black box data seems petty by comparison.

“Look at how much money has been spent, on this crash and others, just to do the post-mortem,” Doug Perovic, a professor at the University of Toronto told CBC News. “It’s crazy, when the technology is already there.”

Live Streaming Would Wipe Out Airline Profits

But of course, airlines must make a cost-benefit analysis based on a risk assessment and the fact is, the overwhelming majority of commercial airline flights do not crash. In fact, the odds of any flight crashing and causing fatalities are just one in over 29 million.

Black box data, live streamed or not, is primarily useful in investigating why a plane has crashed. So given that most black box data is never used in that way, the expenditure just doesn’t seem worth it.

Airlines have average profit margins of just one percent, which comes to about $4 per passenger. The extra expense of live streaming black box data would wipe out what little profit airlines make off each flight.

Nonetheless, after the 2009 disappearance of the Air France flight over the Atlantic, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has been studying how live streaming of black box data could be used in commercial flights, so if the technology can be made cost-effective, he mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 could be the final such puzzle in aviation history.