Marine tech experts suggest solutions to finding missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370
WASHINGTON—Marine technology experts said equipping planes with longer-range transponders as well as pingers could help avoid another Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared during a trip from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8.
Executives from Teledyne Marine Systems, Bluefin Robotics and Phoenix International, all companies involved in the futile search for the aircraft, discussed technology advances that could help find missing flights.
While pingers emit a continuous sound lasting 30 to 45 days from the time they hit water, a transponder waits for a request to send out its signal. Transponders can last from six months to several years.
“There are already rulings in Europe and the U.S. to get longer range pingers to add to the current systems, not replace them,” said Tom Altshuler, vice president and group general manager of Teledyne. “It will be attached to the aircraft, not the black box, so this is more to find the plane.”
Airlines, however, are reluctant to add longer-range transponders, as they take up valuable space and weight on an airline. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 did have a transponder, but it was turned off at some point before the plane vanished.
Altshuler said another feasible option is to use a plane’s Wi-Fi to transmit data to a server, eliminating the need to search for an aircraft’s black box, which contains the pinger.
“There’s virtually no net cost. I just need an Ethernet cable to connect this to this and I change the paradigm,” Altshuler said. “I’d expect to see that in the next few years.”
The future of the search for Flight 370 depends on what contract the Australian Transport Safety Board accepts for a renewed effort, but the executives said that search will likely include side-scan sonar technology, which has been used before.
“The award for that opportunity is pending,” said Peter LeHardy, manager of Phoenix International, “It could come at any moment.”
Malaysia Airlines was not immediately available for comment as the airline dealt with another plane that crashed in eastern Ukraine — reportedly shot down while carrying 295 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
By: Cat Boardman