USA Today - Lawmaker urges 'black boxes' that eject from planes
By Bart Jansen
WASHINGTON — A House lawmaker wants to make sure that planes carry flight recorders that eject before crashes so they are easier to find, a proposal the secretary of transportation said Wednesday he is studying.
Rep. David Price, D-N.C., said the importance of his proposal is demonstrated in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which has been missing since Friday. Roughly a dozen countries are searching for the plane across thousands of miles of ocean.
But he said the 9/11 Commission recommended after the terrorist hijackings in 2001 that planes carry ejectable "black boxes" to make them easier to find. Navy planes have carried them for years, and Transportation Security Administration was given $3.5 million in 2008 to study and test the proposal.
"The need for this has once again been demonstrated," Price told Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx at an Appropriations subcommittee on transportation hearing. "I really urge you to move this ahead."
Foxx said the Federal Aviation Administration is evaluating the technology and developing a plan to determine the benefit of deploying the technology vs. the costs involved.
"It's unclear at this time, obviously, how that might have impacted the situation with the aircraft in Malaysia," Foxx said. "It's a technology we are aware of, and we are working very hard."
Price argued that it wouldn't take many "costly, agonizing, expensive searches" like the one now to make the technology worthwhile.
"Nearly every major commercial air accident that has occurred over water or in remote areas has resulted in a costly and time-consuming recovery," Price said.
Flight-data recorders are crucial to investigating the cause of a crash because they typically record many hours of information about more than 1,000 pieces of data about how a plane was flying. Cockpit-voice recorders typically retain two hours of conversation before a crash, which also helps investigators piece together what happened.
But the recorders can be tough to find. When TWA 800 broke apart over the Atlantic near Long Island in 1996, it took seven days to find the recorders. It took two years to recover the recorders from Air France Flight 447, which crashed in the Atlantic in 2009.
DRS Technologies has manufactured ejectable recorders since the 1960s, and they are installed on military F/A-18C, D, E and F model aircraft. The recorders eject from the plane automatically when triggered by an impact sensor or the use of an ejection seat. When ejected over water, the recorders then float until found.
Price proposed legislation in 2007 that would have required ejectable recorders on commercial airliners as a backup to the standard recorders. The National Transportation Safety Board has welcomed the addition of ejectable recorders, in addition to standard recorders.