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Airline Crash Innovation: Black Box “Ejector Seat”

As the hunt continues for data from a 2009 Air France plane crash in the Atlantic, a new French device could make such lengthy searches a thing of the past.

The new device would be stored at the back of the plane.
The new device would be stored at the back of the plane.
Paul Molga

PARIS – Will the black-box data from the fatal 2009 Rio de Janeiro-Paris flight – resting somewhere 4000 meters below the ocean's surface -- ever be recovered? Though part of the box was located this week, it did not include the "memory unit" that contains crucial information about the moments before and during an airplane accident.

But these same questions that arise after so many airline crashes may soon no longer need to be asked. The Belocopa project (an acronym for "ejectable buoy for the localization and collection of an aircraft's flight parameters') is aiming to produce the solution: an "ejector seat" for cockpit recordings.

A prototype for the new device has just been revealed by a consortium of small businesses from the southern French region of Provence, supported by the competitiveness cluster Pégasse and French public money to the tune of 1.6 million euros. The companies involved are: Tethys, specialists in complex pyrotechnic systems; Acsa, producers of transmission and sea tracking equipment; and Isei, which specialize in flight recorders. "Our complementarity gives us the global solution necessary to run this project", explains Tethys managing director Franck Garde.

Engineers had to develop a complex system that includes a pyrotechnic device capable of creating an opening through the aircraft's cabin that would be wide enough to allow the ejection of a buoy containing the flight recorders, a GPS positioning system to trace the buoy's path as it drifts on the ocean currents and a radio transmitter to communicate its precise location. The package is designed to be placed at the back of the plane. It has an autonomous energy supply and is armored to keep the data protected.

Recurrent debate

"This debate that resurfaces regularly when the extent of the area being searched for wreckage requires extremely long and costly search resources," explains Jean-Claude Marcellet, head of Isei. In the last ten years, 14 passenger planes have been damaged at sea.

Search teams have gone back five times since June 2009 to search for the black box after the Rio-Paris AF447 crashed into the ocean with 228 people on board. The first three attempts cost 20.5 million euros. The fourth, costing the company 9.7 million euros, enabled the area of debris to be identified in the South Atlantic, at the beginning of April. The last phase, launched last Friday to recover the black boxes, should add a further 5 to 6 million euros to the bill picked up by the French government.

"Considering these stakes, our solution targets very considerable markets," the consortium says. The air transport industry's fleet of more than 18,000 planes is set to double in size by 2025. Such growth could generate a 14 million euros annual turnover and create 35 jobs.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Red Barnes

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