Airbus Pioneers New Deployable Flight Recorders

Jul 1, 2017

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Back in 2015, Airbus and Boeing were at odds over equipping airliners with flight recorders, commonly known as black boxes, that will eject and float in the event of a crash. While Seattle-based aircraft manufacturer Boeing had no such plans, citing possible safety risks due to accidental ejections, Airbus believed that this added feature will prevent flight recorders from being trapped in wreckage, making it easier to locate.

Standing firm on its commitment to improving aviation safety, the European aerospace giant announced at the Paris Air Show that new fixed and deployable flight recorders will be implemented for it’s airliner programs, beginning with the A350 in 2019. In collaboration with L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS, two new devices will make its way into future Airbus aircraft: a fixed crash-protected Cockpit Voice and Data Recorder (CVDR) that is capable of recording up to 25 hours of voice and flight data; and an Automatic Deployable Flight Recorder (ADFR).

Left: Automatic Deployable Flight Recorder (ADFR), Right: Cockpit Voice and Data Recorder (CVDR)

The ADFR, designed by DRS, will find itself fitted on the vertical stabilizer (tail fin) of long-range airliners with extended time over water or remote areas, such as the Airbus A321LR, A330, A350 and A380. This new flight recorder variant will deploy automatically in the event of significant structural deformation or water submersion — the first of its kind on a commercial airliner. Once on-board sensors detect the start of the crash, the release unit dislodges the ADFR within milliseconds, allowing aerodynamic forces to lift it away from the disabled aircraft. The unit is also designed to float, allowing quick retrieval by rescue teams — a feature that may prevent future MH370-like incidents. 

The new CVDRs, on the other hand, will more resemble existing conventional flight data recorders. The new variant, which are lighter and more compact than today’s equivalent, boast voice recording capabilities of up to 25 hours — a vast improvement over the current mandated two hours. Airbus plans to fit two of these on future shorter-range A320 airliners in place of the existing setup — one flight data recorder and one separate voice recorder — thereby increasing the redundancy for both voice and flight data recovery.

Both units will also come integrated with an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) that’s designed to last for 90 days, allowing rescue teams to rapidly locate and recover flight recorders.

From left: Martin Munro (Vice President and General Manager, DRS Technologies Canada), Charles Champion (Executive Vice President Engineering, Airbus Commercial Aircraft), Kris Ganase (‎President, Aviation Products & Security Sector, L3 Communications)

Speaking to the media, Martin Munro, Vice President and General Manager of DRS Technologies Canada, said: “The incorporation of a deployable recording system supports recent ICAO requirements to aid in the identification and location of a downed-aircraft while enabling the rapid recovery of flight recorder data.” The inclusion of these deployable black boxes could help airlines and aviation authorities learn more from any accidents that may happen, thus further improving the already-stellar safety record of the commercial aviation industry.

Images courtesy of Airbus. 

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