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Current Affairs

Black boxes handling

Date: 14 January 2021 Tags: Disaster & Disaster Management

Issue

Indonesian authorities have retrieved one of two black boxes from a Sriwijaya Air Boeing 737-500 that crashed into the Java Sea.

 

Background

Black boxes are flight data recorders that contain information regarding flight activity. It can help in decoding the reasons that led to disaster.

 

Details

  • They are not actually black but high-visibility orange. Many historians attribute their invention to Australian scientist David Warren in the 1950s.

  • They are mandatory. The aim is not to establish legal liability, but to identify causes and help prevent future accidents.

  • The earliest devices recorded limited data on wire or foil. Some models typically used magnetic tape.

  • Modern ones use computer chips. The recordings are housed inside crash-survivable containers able to withstand 3,400 times the force of gravity on impact.

  • Airbus is testing an alternative design in a floatable panel embedded in the aircraft’s fuselage. Bolts would retract and the device would fall away when the plane is about to crash on water, avoiding a deep-sea search.

 

Handling the recorders

  • After a crash over the sea, the recorder is placed back in water to prevent damage from contact with air while being transported.

  • Once dry, technicians peel away protective material and carefully clean and retrieve the recordings, which are copied.

  • The Flight Data Recorder contains about 25 hours of data on eight tracks and the Cockpit Voice Recorder has 30 minutes of conversation. In many countries, only the main investigator and a handful of people are allowed to hear the raw cockpit tapes.

  • If recorders are badly damaged, the operation is occasionally delegated to an overseas agency like France’s BEA or the device’s manufacturer.