There have been a number of instances where a plane has gone down at sea and the black box was never found—most recently in the case of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. When it comes to avoiding that fate, the ultimate goal is to get the flight recorders off the plane entirely, with data transmitted in real time, but an Airbus exec explains broadband's aerial reach is still too limited to make that a reality. So the New York Times reports on a step in the right direction: a "new generation" of recorder being developed by Airbus and due to take to the skies in late 2019 aboard its A350s. The planes will carry both a fixed and releasable version, with the latter being located near the rear of the main body of the aircraft, notes Wired.
The latter will be released in the event of a water crash (once it reaches a depth of 6 feet, a release trigger will activate) and float to the surface, where searchers should be able to locate it using pings it delivers to satellites. That's a different way of attempting to communicate location; currently, a sonic beacon is issued for 30 days, but in deep water, that signal can get muffled. The new satellite-reliant system would reveal the plane's location within seconds and will transmit updated location data for about six days. Its underwater counterpart will transmit a sonic beacon for a to-be-extended 90 days, per new regulations. Wired notes the new black boxes will record 25 hours of data, versus the current two, which could provide insight into everything from previous flights to prior maintenance in the event of a crash. (Read more black box stories.)