Transmitting Flight Data Including Black Box Data Directly To Ground Is Possible

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KUALA LUMPUR, April 7 – Developing a new technology to continuously facilitate transmission of flight data, including those from the black box, to a data centre on the ground is not an impossible task. Noting that the idea had already been developed by some international researchers, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM)’s Office of Industrial Links Director, Associate Prof Dr Amir Akramin Shafie said the idea was not far from becoming a reality. In fact, he pointed out that several small airlines had already been using a system called ‘AMS Blue box Reporting System’ which technically functioned like a black box, except that the data was transmitted directly to the ground.

“The idea has already been in discussion among researchers after the Air France aircraft crash, but of course due to some hurdles, it was not made compulsory for airlines, and is currently used by several airlines,” he told Bernama here Sunday. He was commenting on a call by Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek last Tuesday at the World Telecommunications Development Conference in Dubai, urging the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to develop cutting-edge technology to facilitate transmission of flight data in real time. Ahmad Shabery said the Malaysian Government believed data from aircraft, including from the black box could be continuously transmitted and stored in data centres on the ground.

Amir Akramin, who is also attached to the Department of Mechatronics Engineering in IIUM, said among the stumbling blocks that needed to be addressed were the size of the data, the process it had to go through, and the funds it needed. “This is why, not many airlines have taken the step to implement the technology,” he said. He said in an area where there was no terrestrial telecommunication facilities, the data needed to be relayed through satellite, adding that this would cost a lot of money which in turn, would be absorbed into the passenger’s ticket,” he said. On the other hand, if the aircraft was within the reach of terrestrial telecommunication facilities, it might have to deal with the local spectrum band’s policy, governed by the country it currently flew in, noted Amir Akramin.

“The aircraft, when it flies it passes many countries…and the band is governed by its government, like our communication and multimedia ministry governs the band, the others also do the same…so, this is the main stumbling block of this technology,” he added. Meanwhile, National Space Agency director-general Dr Noordin Ahmad, who shared Amir Akramin’s views was confident the available satellite, be it government-owned or commercial, could be used to run the data transmission in real time, even though it might involve a ‘big packet of data at one time’.

He noted that since the government currently, did not own a communication satellite, it thus enabled real time data transmission. “In this aspect, one thing that we have to consider is the trust, like there will be no spying and so on…it is more towards safety and security,” he added. Meanwhile, Department of Civil Aviation’s Airworthiness Sector senior deputy director Idros Abd Rahman said, other than the black box, several airlines had been using the ‘data link’ for real time data transmission. This is mainly used by maintenance staff to monitor, like for example, in case there were defects or the system’s problems on the aircraft that needed to be repaired, right after it landed, he said. Asked on the capacity of the average data a black box stored on each flight, he said it was a lot, adding it might be in hundreds in digital form.

Following this issue, Malaysia is hosting an aviation industry ICT experts’ meeting next month to find ways to enable information from the black box to be channelled directly to the earth data centre base. Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission chairman Datuk Mohamed Sharil Tarmizi made the announcement on the meeting last Friday. Flight MH370, carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew, left the KL International Airport at 12.41am on March 8 and disappeared from radar screens about an hour later while over the South China Sea. It was to have landed in Beijing at 6.30am on the same day. On March 24, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced that the flight path of MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.

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