Crashed Jets May Be Easier to Find as EU Eyes Tougher Law

Black boxes on airliners would be easier to find under European Union plans to help future accident investigators after the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

The underwater locator beacon in an aircraft’s black box, also known as the flight data and cockpit voice recorder, would have to operate for 90 days instead of 30 days by 2019, according to draft EU legislation. The new rules would also require airlines to track their aircraft over oceans as of 2021 -- a response to the vanishing in March 2014 of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing Co. 777.

The disappearance of that plane on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board prompted the world’s longest search for a commercial jet. A third element of the new EU law would ensure more information for crash investigators once they locate an aircraft by requiring that, by 2019, the cockpit voice recorder register conversations for 25 hours instead of two hours.

The goal is “facilitating the recovery of information for the purposes of European civil-aviation safety investigations and improving flight-recorder performance and handling as well as the location of aircraft after an accident over water,” according to the draft rules.

The European Commission, the EU’s Brussels-based regulatory arm, consulted member states in early July about the plan and intends to present it in November. The 28-nation EU is seeking to set an example for the International Civil Aviation Organization as regulators around the world mull new technological standards to aid accident investigations.

Germanwings Crash

The fatal 2009 crash into the Atlantic Ocean of an Air France jet on its way from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, along with this year’s destruction of a Germanwings plane allegedly brought down in the French Alps by a suicidal pilot, has heightened European sensitivities about the requirements for underwater locating devices, aircraft tracking systems and flight recorders.

The MH370 crash on March 8, 2014, has baffled investigators because the jet vanished from civil radar with no emergency warnings while heading north over the Gulf of Thailand and then turned to fly steadily over the equator.

Seven attempted data communications between the aircraft and an Inmarsat Plc satellite are the only clues to the direction of the aircraft after it disappeared from radar tracks. This has led to a search of an area of seafloor larger than the Netherlands in a remote region of the southern Indian Ocean about a third of the way from Australia to Madagascar.

“The position of public transport aircraft should be known at all times, even in a remote location, in order to facilitate the location of the aircraft in case of an abnormal behavior, an emergency or an accident,” the draft EU law says.

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