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The $100,000 Device That Could Have Solved Missing Plane Mystery

timothy posted about 6 months ago | from the no-need-for-you-to-miss-a-minute-of-the-agonizing-holocaust dept.

Communications 461

First time accepted submitter evidencebase writes "How can an airliner simply disappear, leaving no clues? And why do we have to wait until the black boxes are found to learn what happened to Flight MH370? As this article explains, there's no good reason that flight data needs to go down with the plane, because the technology to stream it to ground, from the moment things start to go wrong, is already on the market. It can be fitted to a commercial airliner for less than $100,000. But the industry has decided that it's not worth the expense. Tell that the the families of passengers on Flight MH370."

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Nice Advertisement (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46459157)

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That Slashvertisement forgot something (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46459573)

A device will work only if it's well maintained.

We are talking about a plane that is owned by Malaysia, maintained by Malaysians, and by the look of how the way the government of Malaysia has been doing since the plane gone awol, I have serious doubt that the device would work, if it's attached to that plane in the first place.

There's another report online which states that the transponder of the ill-fated plane wasn't working properly - only sending the "Squawkcode" once a minute, instead of the default 5-20 squawks / minute.

Does it really cost $100k? (4, Interesting)

jonwil (467024) | about 6 months ago | (#46459163)

Or does it cost $100k PLUS the cost of labor and maintanence to install the device PLUS the huge cost of taking the plane out of service for x amount of time while the device is being installed (even if its installed at the same time as other maintanence is done, its still a non-zero cost)

Re:Does it really cost $100k? (1, Insightful)

amicusNYCL (1538833) | about 6 months ago | (#46459229)

the huge cost of taking the plane out of service for x amount of time while the device is being installed (even if its installed at the same time as other maintanence is done, its still a non-zero cost)

I'm confused, is it a "huge" cost, or a "non-zero" cost?

Re:Does it really cost $100k? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46459319)

A huge cost to take an airliner out for unscheduled maintenance.
A non zero cost if it is done at scheduled maintenance.

Re:Does it really cost $100k? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46459577)

Modern passenger aircraft have very frequent maintenance, fitting it then would be simple and relatively cheap with no extra downtime.

Re:Does it really cost $100k? (5, Informative)

LeeRyman (1942792) | about 6 months ago | (#46459625)

I disagree,

Maintenance schedules are already extremely tight, and there is a great deal of engineering change procedures that would need to go into fitting something like this to ensure it actually works without making the aircraft fall out of the sky (would kind of make the device redundant). Mods are made, but not without extensive rigour and testing.

(And yes, I have worked in an aircraft through-life support industry)

Re:Does it really cost $100k? (5, Insightful)

Frobnicator (565869) | about 6 months ago | (#46459449)

I'm confused, is it a "huge" cost, or a "non-zero" cost?

Both, because you need to multiply it by planes in service.

A few seconds on Google shows there are around 20,000 registered commercial airliners, and around 145,000 registered aircraft (including commercial aircraft, corporate jets, personal airplanes, military aircraft, and so on.) It doesn't include non-registered aircraft, of which there are many.

But the costs multiply. So when you start with $100K for the device plus installation, you are looking at $14B for the first pass. Then your small annual fee multiplies to perhaps fifty million every year in upkeep and service fees.

If you are talking about a major aircraft like a commercial B777 passenger craft, the installation and upkeep is relatively small. These massive aircraft are expensive to buy and maintain. The amortized cost per passenger over a year's flights is going to be a fraction of a cent.

When you are talking about smaller craft like the super common Cessna 172, the device is going to be about 1/4 of the cost of the airplane. All the little utility aircraft are the most common type of aircraft, even though most of us only associate airplanes with the giant cargo jets and passenger flights.

Ultimately let's assume they are looking around $14B initial investment plus $50M/year continuous cost. All of that money to get a little information once every few years when an airplane gets lost over the ocean. Is it worth it? Perhaps it is worth it for the large commercial passenger airlines, but not for all aircraft.

Re:Does it really cost $100k? (3, Insightful)

CapOblivious2010 (1731402) | about 6 months ago | (#46459537)

If you are talking about a major aircraft like a commercial B777 passenger craft, the installation and upkeep is relatively small. These massive aircraft are expensive to buy and maintain. The amortized cost per passenger over a year's flights is going to be a fraction of a cent.

Come on, let's do some math instead of just guessing at the answer: if a plane seats 200 people, flies 4 segments/day, 300 days/year, and the device has a useful life of 10 years, that's $100K / 10 / 300 / 4 / 200 = about 4 cents per passenger segment. An order of magnitude more than "a fraction of a cent", but still pretty close to negligible.

Re:Does it really cost $100k? (3, Interesting)

amicusNYCL (1538833) | about 6 months ago | (#46459681)

Ultimately let's assume they are looking around $14B initial investment plus $50M/year continuous cost.

Why are we assuming that? A Cessna 172 has a maximum takeoff weight of 2400 pounds, while cockpit voice recorders are required on aircraft with a MTOW of over 12,500 pounds (5700kg). Why are we assuming that this technology to supplement a black box is going to be required on aircraft where a black box is not currently required?

This is aside from my initial point of calling out the parent because he sounds like a black box manufacturing shill opposed to any technology that might some day replace a black box, using easily-fungible terms like "huge cost" followed up by, well, it's at least a non-zero cost.

This is also aside from the fact that a private aircraft owner does not lose anything when his aircraft is "out of service". He's not losing passenger dollars. If I open up my Cessna or Piper for maintenance it doesn't cost me anything other than the parts. In short, exclude aircraft with a MTOW of less than 5700kg from your calculation and it will be much more realistic. Figure out how many aircraft are currently flying around with black boxes and you'll at least be in the neighborhood.

Re:Does it really cost $100k? (2)

Spazmania (174582) | about 6 months ago | (#46459295)

Yeah, it really costs $100k. Custom Iridium devices of this character aren't terribly expensive, on the order of $500k to $1M to design and $5k-$10k each to manufacture in small quantities. The rest is the cost of putting it on the plane, maintaining it and paying for satellite service.

Iridium is an LEO satellite constellation. You only send the radio signal a few hundred miles, you you can basically point an antenna generically at the sky and talk. It doesn't require the kind of complex engineering that talking to a geostationary satellite from a moving vehicle would.

The report didn't say, but a device of this nature is most likely what was on he air france flight, sending in the maintenance reports.

Nevertheless, $100k is a lot of money. Would the passengers have been willing to pay more for the tickets so that their loved ones would have a slightly better idea where they crashed? Probably not.

Yes. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46459431)

Considering number of people per flight and number of flights per plane, the extra cost is negligible.

But it would mean slightly less profit for the airline company.

Once again, the free market fails where regulation would succeed - the former can only correct for the future AFTER everyone's dead and un-buried.

Re:Yes. (4, Insightful)

CapOblivious2010 (1731402) | about 6 months ago | (#46459605)

Once again, the free market fails where regulation would succeed - the former can only correct for the future AFTER everyone's dead and un-buried.

Why do you say that? What makes YOU the authority on the "correct" answer? Maybe people are perfectly comfortable with the status quo - after all, it's not like this box would save anyone, it would just help to find their corpses a little sooner. Considering only a few hundred people a year die in commercial plane crashes (vs around 100 million total deaths per year), and the vast majority of those are found very quickly, it's not really that big of a deal. There are probably better ways to spend $100K per plane to improve the flying experience (safer, more comfortable, less TSA, whatever), yet you've suddenly decided that the best thing to do would have been to bump this box (which you never even heard of until today) to the top of the list!

Re:Yes. (1, Insightful)

Cederic (9623) | about 6 months ago | (#46459679)

Once again, the free market fails where regulation would succeed - the former can only correct for the future AFTER everyone's dead and un-buried.

They'd be just as fucking dead even if you knew where to find the bodies.

Re:Does it really cost $100k? (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 6 months ago | (#46459469)

100K? no, it's not a lot of money when looking at the cost of an airplane.
Ticket increase might have been pennies.

$100K is a lot of money if ... (2)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 6 months ago | (#46459491)

Nevertheless, $100k is a lot of money...

True, $100K may be a lot of money, if it's the price you pay to put a device into your $10K car.

But we are talking about a jet plane that is worth $100M and up.

What is the ratio of $100K to the original plane pricetag of $100M ? 1: 1000

Allow me to put it in the context of your car - Let's say your car's price tag is $10K, What will that device cost you, if it's 1000th of your car ? $10 ??

Re:Does it really cost $100k? (2, Interesting)

icebike (68054) | about 6 months ago | (#46459557)

Wait, the sat service is already in place. You are simply talking about another data channel interleaved on the existing data channels these planes already stream back to the airlines and to Boeing/Airbus.

If airlines are going to start feeding passengers internet access they surely have time to insert a few OOB packets for event recording. I believe some of this is part of ACAS data streams.

The flight in question had GPS tracking for flight arrival information.
It went dead the same time as everything else. (EMP pulse?)

Re:Does it really cost $100k? (3, Interesting)

gnupun (752725) | about 6 months ago | (#46459575)

Nevertheless, $100k is a lot of money. Would the passengers have been willing to pay more for the tickets so that their loved ones would have a slightly better idea where they crashed? Probably not.

No, $100k is not a lot of money. Consider just the fuel cost: 10 hours flying time by a Boeing 747 consumes 36,000 gallons of fuel [howstuffworks.com] . That's around $100k or more.

Re:Does it really cost $100k? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46459315)

$100k includes installation and support. Installation and testing take 1 hour.

And 50% of time the it works every time.

Re:Does it really cost $100k? (1)

Prime Mover (149173) | about 6 months ago | (#46459407)

per plane! All that times number of planes in the air, to solve a very limited problem. Black boxes work most of the time. There are very few entirely missing flights.

Re:Does it really cost $100k? (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 6 months ago | (#46459673)

NO, black box recovery is a huge pain in the ass and it's dangerous.

However many planes have a system ALREADY INSTALLED, it's just used for maintenance.

And 100K really isn't much for an item that will be paid off over 30 years and 10's of thousands of passengers.

How many gallons of fuels does a 747 hold?
How much do you think it costs to fill up a 747?
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
just about 50,000 gallon, at about 6 bucks a gallon.
so 300K to fill it.
I used 747 to illistrate how little you know about airline numbers. Also, I happen to know a lot them.

Re:Does it really cost $100k? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46459409)

Tell THAT to the families!

If only the entire airline industry had bought 1 per plane, those people would still be.. well they'd still be dead.

Re:Does it really cost $100k? (1)

mythosaz (572040) | about 6 months ago | (#46459515)

I had wanted to say just that. ...for only 100k, they'd still be dead, but, well, perhaps not.

Knowing exactly where a plane lands in the water might give an opportunity for an at-sea rescue of possible survivors -- should a giant plane smacking into the water allow for such a thing.

Of course, the cost versus lives always reminds me of this:

Narrator: A new car built by my company leaves somewhere traveling at 60 mph. The rear differential locks up. The car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside. Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one.

How much are those boxes? What's the cost to install them everywhere? What's our likelihood of a lawsuit?

Re:Does it really cost $100k? (1)

khallow (566160) | about 6 months ago | (#46459425)

It's also another thing to break which will keep the plane from flying. Also, what happens if the network goes down? Do we keep planes from flying until it comes back up?

Re:Does it really cost $100k? (1, Insightful)

mythosaz (572040) | about 6 months ago | (#46459525)

Should we remove radios and radar and GPS from the planes too? After all, they're just another thing that can break.

Re:Does it really cost $100k? (1)

khallow (566160) | about 6 months ago | (#46459635)

Should we remove radios and radar and GPS from the planes too?

Some planes in the US don't fly with any of that stuff. But in cases where those items are mandatory (which I gather is the case for commercial flight), then you don't fly when that equipment is broken.

Re:Does it really cost $100k? (1)

PrimaryConsult (1546585) | about 6 months ago | (#46459479)

The cost is because it is "on an airplane" meaning it needs to be certified by FAA and other alphabet soup agencies around the world. And forget about firmware updates...

Re:Does it really cost $100k? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46459571)

Even more than that is the cost of the fuel, anything you add to the plane adds weight and therefore increases fuel consumption...

Re:Does it really cost $100k? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46459647)

How about giving passengers the option of paying extra for a plane equipped to stream disaster info, or less for a regular black box equipped plane. I'd go for less.

Re:Does it really cost $100k? (3)

hey! (33014) | about 6 months ago | (#46459651)

What does it matter, on a plane like the 777 that costs $260 to $377 *million* dollars to acquire? That's less than 4 hundreths of a percent of the acquisition cost. 100K$ is peanuts on the scale of costs it takes to acquire and operate a large airliner.

And since it is not, strictly speaking, a piece of *safety* equipment, there's no need to take planes out of service to install it. Just require it on new planes, and maybe retrofit existing large airliners when they're down for major maintenance.

It seems likely to me that the probably reason this device isn't required is engineering conservatism. Before something like this is required, you have to convince people that (a) it's a good idea, and (b) this is a good implementation of that good idea.

Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46459177)

Are we sure this plane wasn't on Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 ?

not worth it (4, Insightful)

rcarsey (158673) | about 6 months ago | (#46459181)

black boxes are almost always recovered. the only thing it would save is a big oceanic search -- how often does that happen?

Re:not worth it (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 6 months ago | (#46459223)

I also wonder what prevented the COSPAS-SARSAT system from helping in this case. Or is it just that they don't equip the planes with these beacons? That would seem strange to me.

Re:not worth it (1)

GumphMaster (772693) | about 6 months ago | (#46459413)

COSPAS-SARSAT is not useful unless the aircraft ELT is activated (manually or automatically), intact, and and above ground/water. The aircraft ELT is not active/visible and the crew never called mayday, squawked 7500 (hijacked), 7600 (radio failure) or 7700 (emergency). That's why this is quite a mystery.

also.. (1)

rcarsey (158673) | about 6 months ago | (#46459255)

i WILL say that oceanic flights (or flights going over water more than 50 miles or so) should be equipped with a device to send their GPS coordinates via Iridium. that is very cheap to do (they make handheld devices that do this for a few hunded USD).

At least then you'll get the search started in the right area.

Re:not worth it (3, Insightful)

quenda (644621) | about 6 months ago | (#46459257)

Yeah, that $100k is per aircraft. So two billion dollars for the world's commercial fleets. (around 20,000 jetliners)
That's makes the search and recovery of black boxes look cheap. Very rarely is one lost permanently.

Re:not worth it (1)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | about 6 months ago | (#46459265)

how often does that happen?

About every five years, apparently.

Re:not worth it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46459287)

Yeah it's a good thing planes don't travel over oceans very often.

Re:not worth it (1)

ron_ivi (607351) | about 6 months ago | (#46459309)

black boxes are almost always recovered

Except when planes crash?

Seems the 9/11 planes' were lost too. http://911research.wtc7.net/pl... [wtc7.net]

Re:not worth it (1)

mythosaz (572040) | about 6 months ago | (#46459539)

Those boxes might have been lost, but you couldn't possibly have picked a less credible site.

Re:not worth it (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 6 months ago | (#46459683)

The cost of recovery is more then the cost of one of these. Here is a novel idea, what is it was live and we didn't need to recover, faulty, black boxes anymore?

Lat / Long? (4, Interesting)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | about 6 months ago | (#46459189)

I can see how a constant stream of telemetry might be cost-prohibitive, but what about a squirt of data consisting of -

- Flight Number
- Lat / Long
- Airspeed
- Groundspeed
- Altitude
- Compass heeding

...sent every five minutes? At least that would give a 'last known' location.

Re:Lat / Long? (1)

dbarron (286) | about 6 months ago | (#46459251)

That's very doable and could probably be put in one or maybe a couple of packets of data. Given that I know nothing specifically about airplane systems, still one would expect you could install a stand alone black box that gathers and transmits this data w/o even integrating it into any systems besides onboard power. Relative compass heading and airspeed are easily derivable from last GPS positions. I can't understand why it would REQUIRE 100K per plane to do this.

Re:Lat / Long? (2)

TWX (665546) | about 6 months ago | (#46459451)

One could even integrate this kind of thing into the mesh network concept, where aircraft and ground stations simply routinely exchange their data as a sort of near-field-communication thing for the skies.

It could work along the same lines as the early shared-bandwidth ethernet model:
  • Plane, on takeoff and once away from range of the airport (which could be a predetermined value and could even be unique to any given airport) starts listening, and starts a random count to transmit (like the CSMA/CD negotiation for Ethernet). The aircraft is listening for basic data such as grandparent post outlined.
  • If aircraft detects a transmission from another, it simply notes the sender ID and checks if it has previous data on that sender. If it does it simply appends to the log on the sender, otherwise it starts a new log with that sender's ID.
  • If there's no one transmitting, the aircraft transmits.
  • If the aircraft detects a special node, like a ground-based node, and if no one is transmitting, the aircraft transmits its flight history information, and then transmits the collected information on other aircraft. This could be on a different frequency so to avoid interrupting the real-time data from aircraft.
  • When the aircraft lands, it uploads all of the history on itself and on other aircraft to the airport. Depending on the airline or nation, it may then delete the logs of other aircraft or it may hold on to them, but it holds on to its own logs until maintenance clears them. Once it takes off, the process repeats itself.

To me this isn't all that difficult of a concept, though it would require mandatory participation among commercial jets to be most effective. It would also require that the system couldn't readily be turned off either, so that a hijacker can't disable it.

Re:Lat / Long? (4, Insightful)

lesincompetent (2836253) | about 6 months ago | (#46459261)

Couldn't simply ACARS be adapted to do this?

Re:Lat / Long? (3, Funny)

amicusNYCL (1538833) | about 6 months ago | (#46459263)

Something like that already exists [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Lat / Long? (1)

manu144x (3377615) | about 6 months ago | (#46459279)

Don't they already have that recorded by all radars the aircraft goes through?

Re:Lat / Long? (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | about 6 months ago | (#46459299)

They already do that. That system failed for an unknown reason.

Also, at 900fps, a jet travels in the neighborhood of 50 miles just between 5 minute beacons. It's better than nothing, but a 50 mi x N mi grid search of the ocean floor is pretty much a non-starter in most areas of the globe.

Re:Lat / Long? (1)

x0ra (1249540) | about 6 months ago | (#46459303)

Because it already exist. That's how you can follow a plane travel from sitting comfortably in your couch surfing the internet. The real problem appears where the uplink to the ground is broken and the plane "crash".

Re:Lat / Long? (1)

DriedClexler (814907) | about 6 months ago | (#46459439)

Fine, as long as we don't make it a *general* policy to adopt Steve Ballmer's jargon [seattlepi.com] .

Well it isn't (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46459199)

Let's be clear here, this is a tragedy for everyone involved, but the fact of the matter is 100,000 added to the cost of one of these planes just for the off chance that the plane goes down and we can't find it is an unnecessary expense. Most of the time, when a plane goes down we know where it went.

Re:Well it isn't (1)

Anubis IV (1279820) | about 6 months ago | (#46459415)

Yup, and that was the conclusion in the article as well. Planes simply don't kill enough people to justify the added expense. That said, we could avoid situations like these by simply supplementing the black box with some low-tech options that are available for cheap. For instance, send the location, heading, speed, and altitude back to the ground each minute. Over the course of an hour, that should take up less than a megabyte of bandwidth, keeping data costs over the satellite low, and it'd help search parties locate the black box.

More or less, let the black box do its job, but add a device that makes it easier for it to do its job, rather than trying to replace it with an expensive and unnecessary retrofit.

snark (5, Insightful)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 6 months ago | (#46459205)

Tell that the the families of passengers on Flight MH370.

Why, would that somehow bring them back to life?

Re:snark (1, Insightful)

Cryacin (657549) | about 6 months ago | (#46459269)

You obviously don't know about the concept of closure, or care enough about someone else to care about it.

Re:snark (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46459375)

You obviously don't know about the concept of closure, or care enough about someone else to care about it.

Ok Mr. Sensitive, if the families really need closure, just tell them the plane landed safely and all the passengers are now staying at Amelia Earhart's house.

Be careful (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46459207)

Posts like this are exactly why we have the TSA in all our airports.

Re:Be careful (1)

BronsCon (927697) | about 6 months ago | (#46459289)

No, people who buy into the bullshit in posts like this are why we have the TSA. Don't blame the salespeople, blame the suckers. Well, blame both, but until the suckers have to face their own actions head-on, we're just going to keep breeding more and more of them; once we solve that problem, the salespeople will fix themselves.

Aircraft that fly in V formation like ducks (0)

common-lisp (2771805) | about 6 months ago | (#46459221)

Only partly relevant to the article, but I just had a thought: I wonder if it would be efficient to have smaller aircraft that fly in V formation.

This would mean fewer empty seats, more reliable problem reports (because there would be eyewitnesses to any crashes), and still it would have some airflow efficiency--at least better efficiency than aircraft flying the same direction but not in a V formation.

Any thoughts?

Re:Aircraft that fly in V formation like ducks (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46459455)

(because there would be eyewitnesses to any crashes)

Except for the last plane on either side.

"Tell the families"? Really? (5, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 6 months ago | (#46459231)

As much as penny-pinching on safety systems is a bad habit, is the emotive "zOMG, Tell the Families!!!" really the best argument that there is for these systems?

It's been what, over three days now, with an aircraft that disappeared from radar at commercial cruising altitude without so much as a burst of garbled obscenities from the flight crew. Do you think that your family is clinging to those little flotation-device pillows, awaiting a rescue that would have come in time if only for upgraded real-time blackbox transmission?

If anybody derives some sort of comfort from whatever they do manage to find, all the better; but this is all trying to recover data for failure analysis, not survivors.

Now, if you want to justify real-time transmission, check out the amount of (incidentally not paid for by the airline) search gear that has been diverted from Malaysian, Chinese, and other sources to looking for the debris. Whole bunch of ships, airplane and helicopter overflights, diversion of what, 10 satellites? That starts to make the $100k look like savings.

Re:"Tell the families"? Really? (2, Interesting)

i.r.id10t (595143) | about 6 months ago | (#46459405)

Part of these resources are being provided by people or organizations or governments who just want to Do The Right Thing.

Some more of these resources are being provided by those who see others Doing The Right Thing and thinking to themselves that "gee, if A can do it I should do it to show I'm just as good at DTRT as them".

And the last little bit are doing it for a positive karma, so they can get away with Something Bad later on...

It ONLY costs NNNNN, but could have saved Y lives. (1)

brian.stinar (1104135) | about 6 months ago | (#46459241)

I think an American is now only worth 6.9 million (according to Fox News...)
          http://www.foxnews.com/story/2... [foxnews.com]

I couldn't find how much a Malasian life was worth. I think both of these numbers, the mix of people on the plane, and the probability of the crash, are what you'd need to compute if it's "worth" it.

If you think it's "worth" it, then install those devices in airplanes you own. Personally, I'd rather not have to pay more for tickets, or taxes, to have them installed in every plane, flying everywhere, in the world.

Re:It ONLY costs NNNNN, but could have saved Y liv (1)

Megane (129182) | about 6 months ago | (#46459421)

Wait a minute, how many lives could this have saved, exactly? Sounds to me like all it would do is say THE DEAD PEOPLE ARE RIGHT HERE.

Re:It ONLY costs NNNNN, but could have saved Y liv (1)

brian.stinar (1104135) | about 6 months ago | (#46459607)

Good point. I didn't see how much it was worth to find a dead American, Malaysian, or a dead airplane either...

Higher prices (1)

canadiannomad (1745008) | about 6 months ago | (#46459243)

Knowing the airlines it would somehow be permanently added to the plane ticket price....
Given the number of unrecovered flight recorders [wikipedia.org] and the amount of time that list has been growing and the risks of being involved in a plane crash vs a car crash(no black box) [usatoday.com]
Since prices are already seem pretty high for me for those cramped seats, I think I side with "the industry" on this one.

Re:Higher prices (3, Insightful)

Carnildo (712617) | about 6 months ago | (#46459371)

The number of unrecovered black boxes is pretty damn low: in the past 25 years, only one airplane's recorders were lost. The rest were either destroyed in the crash, or deliberately not recovered.

Then open your wallet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46459245)

$100K PER PLANE to solve a problem that only occurs very rarely actually seems like quite a bit of money.

Misunderstanding of risk (5, Insightful)

DriedClexler (814907) | about 6 months ago | (#46459249)

Tell that the the families of passengers on Flight MH370."

Oy gevalt! This again? When minimizing risk, you have to invest where you get the best returns in lives saved. Obviously, in retrospect, after an accident, you'll wish you had spent infinity on having more safety, but that's the wrong way to think about it.

You should instead:

1) figure out how much you're willing to spend per statistical life saved

2) deploy safety measures up to that point

It's not always going to make sense to keep throwing on all kinds of safety equipment simply to handle every black swan event you can think of -- remember, they do log airplane location remotely and continuously; it's just that that still wasn't enough in this case.

You might as well advocate that planes start giving everyone a parachute, without realizing it makes flight so unaffordable as to push people to less safe modes of transportation.

Comments like these promote a worse understanding of the issues.

Re:Misunderstanding of risk (1)

mrbene (1380531) | about 6 months ago | (#46459355)

I came here to harp on the same things as many other posters have already said. DriedClexler says it best so far.

There are at minimum 20k planes [airliners.net] , but possibly up to 100k. Let's estimate that half of 20k planes have this installed, at an expenditure of one trillion dollars.

This would result in this particular flight having a 50% chance of having a bit of extra information about where it crashed.

Sounds like a pretty expensive method for retrieving dead bodies. But then, I've always wanted to be buried at sea.

Re:Misunderstanding of risk (1)

glasshole (3569269) | about 6 months ago | (#46459563)

Let's estimate that half of 20k planes have this installed, at an expenditure of one trillion dollars.

Too many zeros, I believe it would be one billion dollars.

Re:Misunderstanding of risk (1)

aardvarkjoe (156801) | about 6 months ago | (#46459649)

There are at minimum 20k planes, but possibly up to 100k. Let's estimate that half of 20k planes have this installed, at an expenditure of one trillion dollars.

You're off by a factor of a thousand here -- 10k * $100k is $1 billion, not $1 trillion. According to the article, ongoing costs would be in the hundreds of millions per year per airline, so a rough order-of-magnitude estimate might be $1 billion per year.

Worth it? Maybe. I'd like to see some examples of where a system like this would have actually saved some lives first -- the article doesn't give any. After all, there's an awful lot of things you can do for $1 billion a year that are more likely to save lives than betting it on the off chance of an airliner crash.

Rollroyce (1)

sycodon (149926) | about 6 months ago | (#46459267)

Rolls Royce does this with their engines. They get real time telemetry whenever the engine is running.

Re:Rollroyce (1)

nojayuk (567177) | about 6 months ago | (#46459337)

The ACARS only transmits in bursts while the plane is in flight, usually when there's been a change to the engine settings or operating conditions. Data transmission to satellites necessary for trans-oceanic flights costs money on a per-packet basis so there's no continuous data streaming. I think they log more data and dump it at the end of the flight once the plane's on the ground.

It starts transmitting when something goes wrong (5, Interesting)

innocent_white_lamb (151825) | about 6 months ago | (#46459275)

This $100,000 gadget doesn't do continuous data transmission. It starts transmitting when something goes wrong, and that's it.

If something does go wrong and there's time for this thing to start transmitting, then wouldn't there also be time for the pilot (copilot, navigator, stewardess) to get on the radio and say "Hello, chaps on the ground. Something has gone wrong."

If it blows up in mid-air or something like that, you won't get anything more with this device than you get without it.

What do you gain for $100,000, then?

Actually, it doesn't (1)

frovingslosh (582462) | about 6 months ago | (#46459613)

"It starts transmitting when something goes wrong"

In theory it might start transmitting when something goes wrong, but clearly things can "go wrong" that would also prevent the start of the transmission. For example, if a couple of hijackers steal a plane and fly it to Thailand, they will turn off the device around the same time that they turn off the transponder. And just diverting the plane to a different location isn't likely to be detected as "something going wrong" to start the data transmission anyway.

Airline Ticket Prices (1)

sdoca (1225022) | about 6 months ago | (#46459277)

How many people could afford the cost of a plane ticket after all the aircraft have this device installed? The cost will be passed on to the customers.

Re: Airline Ticket Prices (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46459397)

How many people could afford the cost of a plane ticket after all the aircraft have this device installed? The cost will be passed on to the customers.

Yeah, and?

A few hundred people per day per plane ... what? ... this will pay for itself in a few days and then the airline will keep the extra fees and add it to its bottom line.

Win for the airline. Win for the government involved. And fuck the consumer.

Gotta love Capitalism - and crony capitalism as it is practiced in most of the World - fuck the people!

$100 grand? Try $300 Million/yr (4, Insightful)

Overzeetop (214511) | about 6 months ago | (#46459281)

The fine article states that L-3 (who has a bit of a conflict of interest) says that streaming all data real-time would cost $300M/yr. The mfr of the "glass box" says it wouldn't stream data until there was an anomalous event, and so it wouldn't cost nearly that much.

Who's right? Well, TFA states "Of course, that wouldn’t yield much information if a plane is blown out of the sky by a bomb, or suffers a sudden catastrophic structural failure at cruising altitude. But in those rare cases, conventional black boxes are really the only viable technology."

So you either stream data all the time, or you miss the really crazy disappearances. Which is exactly the ones you WANT this data from. So to the families of passengers of MH370 - we don't know where your plane is because we didn't spend billions of dollars to equip every plane and then spend an extra $300Million a year to run the system.

Oh, and since the transponder that relays back basic information failed on this flight, there's a chance that whatever took it out would have also taken out the full-data relay, and after spending all those billions of dollars we might *still* not be able to find it.

Dumb author... (1)

I kan Spl (614759) | about 6 months ago | (#46459285)

The author failed to account for the increased cost required to launch more satellites...

"It transmits data via Iridium satellitesâSâ"âSwhich also allow people to use a satellite phone from anywhere in the worldâSâ"âSand can be programmed to start streaming flight data when a plane deviates from its flight plan, or instruments suggest something is going wrong."

I've looked into an Iridium sat phone for use while camping in the middle of nowhere. The thing is that their network is near or at capacity much of the time. Many times their phones can get signal but can't get a channel clear to make a call.

A quick google search says a cheap satellite is $300 million. I'm not sure how many we would need, but it would not be a small number.

Re:Dumb author... (3, Interesting)

Megane (129182) | about 6 months ago | (#46459481)

It also doesn't help that the Iridium network is completely and totally analog. That means good ol' 9600 baud modem tones. The new generation of sats starting next year will support digital communications.

Subcontractor Application (1)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 6 months ago | (#46459305)

US $100,000 per plane x how many planes?

I think I could just barely provide a water-tight homing beacon with redundant power sources at, say, a million a dozen.... which leaves room for campaign contributions to secure the contracts.

Hey families of passengers on Flight MH370: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46459321)

The industry has decided that it's not worth the expense.

can it be disabled? (1)

fermion (181285) | about 6 months ago | (#46459325)

Right now it seems that the plane might have been flown off course and the transponder was shut down. The thing about the black box is that apparently is hard if not impossible to shut down. Anything that transmits can be disabled. There is reason to believe that such a device would have done any good in this case, This is just another effort by some corporation to try to sell a movie plot security measure. Like arming pilots when locking the cockpit door would do or naked scanners instead of trained surveillance. The plane will be found, if it was a crash the bodies will be recovered, and the cost will be lower than the 3 billion needed to equip the next 15 years of commercial aircraft. Such a device might be good, but we can't assume some conspiracy of evil greedy airlines. There may be good reasons, such as the fact it doesn't really work as well as the PR suggests.

APRS (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46459331)

Why not HF-APRS?

How would this have helped with MH370? (5, Informative)

tipo159 (1151047) | about 6 months ago | (#46459343)

"Of course, that wouldn’t yield much information if a plane is blown out of the sky by a bomb, or suffers a sudden catastrophic structural failure at cruising altitude. But in those rare cases, conventional black boxes are really the only viable technology."

MH370 was sending data when it disappeared. The ADS-B data can be found on FlightRadar 24. Rolls Royce indicated that it was receiving ACARS data from the engines.

All of this stuff was either switched off or stopped working because of a sudden catastrophic failure.

Re:How would this have helped with MH370? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46459471)

I agree with the ADS-B data - which really appears to be the best data at this point, but I don't agree with the ACARS data. That is, I have not read an actual confirmation of ACARS data being sent from anywhere, just that some news organization said it was and everyone reprinted it. Do you have a direct link to that?

What is really worrying is that the ELT does not appear to have been activated, or rather may have been purposely disabled...

Re:How would this have helped with MH370? (1)

Neo-Rio-101 (700494) | about 6 months ago | (#46459641)

It's starting to look as if the pilot went suicidal and took his plane and passengers with him. Not the first time this has happened unfortunately.

An appeal to emotion? (1)

Raven42rac (448205) | about 6 months ago | (#46459369)

An appeal to emotion? On my slashdot?

-1 Flamebait (4, Insightful)

Alomex (148003) | about 6 months ago | (#46459379)

Tell that the the families of passengers on Flight MH370.

-1 Flamebait

$100,000? (4, Insightful)

jtownatpunk.net (245670) | about 6 months ago | (#46459423)

It shouldn't cost that much. Many planes already have data service (run thru satellites) that they sell to passengers. Shouldn't be that hard to tap into the available instrument data and send out a blurp every 10-15 seconds. Doesn't even need fancy 2-way handshaking. Just send the encrypted packets and grab them as they arrive at the NOC. Not a big deal if the occasional blurp gets missed. But, if they never get another blurp from a plane, at least they got the data right up to the point of disaster.

Just 100K? don't believe it. (4, Funny)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 6 months ago | (#46459485)

They reel you in with that el-cheapo 100K offer, but then you have to sign a 24 month contract. The "unlimited" streaming plan streams at high speed only for 2GB, then it crawls at 128 Kbps. Want really really unlimited, then you pay per GB. Then there are roaming charges. International roaming charges. Then international texting charges. You have to root the device to install WhatsApp. When the contract is up they will do employ high pressure sales tactics to sign on for another two years for marginal upgrades. Original "free" equipment is designed to crap out in 24 months. Stay away from these data streaming companies.

Problem (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46459499)

SATCOM channels are in short supply because much of the available supply is taken up in remote operation of drones. Even if not continuously streaming data, a SATCOM channel would still need to be reserved for this use. The American CIA is too busy conducting extrajudicial killings via drone to allow civilian passenger planes to use more SATCOM channels.

Slashvertisment? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46459547)

Poorly researched attempt to profit off of disaster is poorly researched.

Cost per use (5, Insightful)

spasm (79260) | about 6 months ago | (#46459555)

Ok, according to the FAA there's ~3,739 U.S. registered passenger jets which carry more than 90 passengers (http://atwonline.com/aircraft-amp-engines/faa-us-commercial-aircraft-fleet-shrank-2011). Cost to fit just U.S. registered aircraft with this device would therefore be just under $374 million.

Number of U.S. registered passenger jets which can carry > 90 passengers that have crashed with any fatalities since 2000 is maybe 5 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_accidents_and_incidents_involving_commercial_aircraft#2000), and the number of those where it wasn't immediately obvious where the wreckage was was zero.

So in the US alone, we're talking close to $374 million dollars to fit out just aircraft that carry more than 90 people, for a return of nothing. I couldn't find a reliable estimate of the number of commercial passenger aircraft currently flying and capable of carrying > 90 passengers globally, but I did see a number of guestimates in the 15,000-20,000 range. Assuming there's only 10,000 currently active passenger planes in the world capable of carrying >90, that's $1,000,000,000 to fit them with this gadget. The number of planes since 2000 which went down with passengers on board which couldn't be immediately located is what? Two? The Malaysian Airlines one now and the Air France one a few years back?

So if every passenger plane in the world capable of carrying more than 90 people had been fitted with this gadget since 2000 we'd currently be running at half a billion dollars per actual use. I can think of a *lot* of uses for half a billion dollars which would actually save tens of thousands of lives. There isn't a single case in the last 20 years where this gadget would have saved a single life - all it can do, at best, is provide slightly faster confirmation to grieving families that their loved ones were indeed dead and here's how it happened. Which is not trivial - I don't mean to invalidate what such news might mean to someone with a loved one who was on that flight - but oh, my, that's a staggering bill to just provide speedy confirmation of a loved one's death for a few hundred people.

Let's NOT tell that to the families (2)

whistlingtony (691548) | about 6 months ago | (#46459559)

"Tell that the the families of passengers on Flight MH370"....

Would this device have stopped the plane from crashing? No. It would have told us what happened... So, in other words, it wouldn't have helped at all. We'd still be telling the families that their loved ones died. We'd just be able to tell them what happened. Which we'll be able to do once we recover the plane (and we will, be patient, sheesh) and find the black box.

In other words, this device does nothing that we need. It just tells what happend in time for the news cycle to remember there was this plane crash.

I sell these for $600 (for boats) (0)

spiritplumber (1944222) | about 6 months ago | (#46459585)

the oldest one turns 4 years old at the end of the month. They are "maintained" by dockworkers, exist in a very taxing environment (dredging) and they Just Work. www.robots-everywhere.com So what? Buy one or don't, I don't care.

Obviously terrorism (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46459609)

The US's puppet Israel has been killing Iranian nuclear scientists. It was only a matter of time until Iran started killing US scientists.

20 high-value semiconductor physicists in one go is a big achievement for the Iranian state.

Cost is a very good reason (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46459633)

How often do events such as this occur? The suffering of families waiting for news is not a rational reason to add at least $100,000 to the cost of an airliner. There will be additional costs not mentioned, like bandwidth and infrastructure but of course making things better for those left behind is worth every expense. Perhaps there are other ways to not only answer questions about what went wrong and why but to save lives. There are various methods of aircraft egress in an emergency, perhaps converting business class cocoons into survival pods like the XB-70 would leave fewer families awaiting telemetry from disappeared aircraft.

the device that could have solved missing plane wa (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46459669)

200 passenger * $500 iphone/samsung... that 100K was already on the plane.. just let people make phone calls.

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