Why are airlines stuck in the electronic middle ages?

I work with CNN running a few hours a day, especially in the morning. This morning, part of the discussion over the disappearance of Malaysian flight 370 has revolved around why are we still dependent upon "black boxes" (which are, in fact, high-visibility orange) and cockpit voice recorders which only have the ability to record two hours of conversation. Because large areas of the world are "radar blind" (no coverage) and because controllers depend upon a transponder, which can be manually switched off for position information in these areas (unless someone in the cabin says something), it's possible for a jumbo jet like the Boeing 777 to be flying in a kind of radar limbo until it can be seen by radar again.

Why isn't the black box data being streamed constantly or at least in packets every few minutes to some computer somewhere watching for deviations from the expected course, thus alerting a controller to ask what's going on? Why is there a 2-hour limit on the voice data recorder? Much more than 2 hours could be recorded onto a medium-sized SD card, after all.

Another mystery is why these jets aren't fitted with a GPS. Our phone providers know where most of us are most of the time. Isn't it silly that the position, speed, and direction of a plane full of 240 or so people is a mystery given that your local police department can probably get a warrant to figure out where your phone was relative to the time and position of a crime?

Another topic was, why are there no cameras installed in cockpits? After all, in many locales, school and city bus drivers drive in a vehicle fitted with cameras and those cameras have proven useful time and time again in clarifying what happened. It was said that pilots object that cameras in the cockpit would be (and I quote) "an invasion of privacy." Now, what gives pilots an expectation of privacy in the first place?

I'm guessing it's just the inertia generated by the trajectory of the past: they haven't had cockpit cameras in the past so they don't want them in the future. It's hard not to ask, given their hesitancy, what goes on in the cockpits? We know that pilots take naps on long flights. That's probably good. Put the plane on autopilot with the flightpath plugged in and then rest, depending upon the many alarm systems built into these planes to alert them to a situation. 

Another advantage of having cockpit cameras would be in preserving the reputation of heroic or victimized pilots whose planes go down mysteriously. Had a camera been in the cockpit of flight 370, we'd know if there was an incursion into the cockpit of a terrorist or madman, we'd know if there was a fire, we'd know if the pilot or copilot went crazy. There wouldn't be all this speculation we have now, which has some wondering if it's a situation like Egyptair flight 999, where the copilot apparently took the plane down in an act of suicide.

Most of us have more high-tech electronics in our homes, pockets, purses, or even on our wrists than contemporary aircraft are fitted with.

Is this crazy or not?

Tags: 370, aircraft, flight, gps, technology

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It could make flying safer.

Flying is already safer then every other form of travel isn't it?

It's all about money, profit over safety.

Profit, yes. Going out of business won't make anyone safer. Read my other replies about this corporate paranoia in this thread. Did it ever occur to you that adding things to planes makes tickets more expensive, and that flying could probably be a lot safer if tickets were basically unaffordable?

Today on CNN, one of the experts predicted that in the not-so-far-off future, airliners will be pilotless. May HAVE to be pilotless, making planes un-hijackable. (Of course, they could still be exploded.)

Another expert said that there's too much automation. Pilots spend a great deal of the time relaxing while the plane is on autopilot. Not that it necessarily applies to this crash, but the situation with the recent Aiseana flight 240 crash in San Francisco was due to pilot error by pilots relying too heavily on an automated landing by a system which was malfunctioning. Planes need to be FLOWN not just attended this expert said.

There are many causes of plane crashes, but statistics show that lately pilot error is the cause about 50% of the time. In the 1950's, it was 57%, but obviously back then they didn't have the investigative techniques and technologies available today, so take that latter statistic with a grain of salt. Today's computer automation is so robust that it can easily fly an airliner. Bye-bye pilot error.

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