Stay informed on COVID-19 updates from EASARead more

Data recording from AIRBUS perspective: Peter Anders in Interview

On Air, Issue 9 - Flight Tracking

Data recording from AIRBUS perspective: Peter Anders in Interview

Working for AIRBUS since 1989, Peter Anders is a Certification Manager for Avionics on all Airbus programs. Since 2010, he is Airworthiness Expert for Connectivity and Data Recording products. He is also responsible for providing Airworthiness expertise of future products to enhance data recording recovery and aircraft location. He represents AIRBUS in international regulation working groups (ICAO/FLIREC, EASA/EFRPG) to contribute industrial positions and opinions.

Most citizens don’t understand why a large aeroplane with 250 passenger can’t be found for months or even years despite all the technologies available today, even in the simplest personal devices. How would you explain the challenges of tracking and locating an aircraft everywhere, in plain words?

On the rare occasions when accidents occur, rescuing survivors has the highest priority, followed by the recovery of casualties, the wreckage and the flight recorders. To ensure that these objectives will be met, ICAO, EC and EASA regulations became effective and evolved progressively. These regulations require installation of means for location of aircraft tracking and identification of distress in any airspace, and to support getting the data and searching for the wreckage in remote area and underwater.

However, circumstances of accidents are usually very different. Some abnormal events may have happened on-board before the crash impact, which could prevent functioning of such means supporting continues location.

Tracking capabilities, supported by satellite services, are considered as truly promising means to determine the location of aircraft at any time. There are good services already available– for instance Flightradar24 (https://www.flightradar24.com ). However, as mentioned above, the distress conditions of aircraft on the eve of an accident is almost difficult to master. Electrical power may not available anymore; the aircraft attitude does not allow continues link connection to satellites or, in the worst case, the crew disables or manipulates tracking functionality. Finally, global coverage of satellite services is not guaranteed. In short, any of current means of flight tracking do no guarantee to function under all possible worst conditions.

Therefore, AIRBUS is working on improvements of aircraft tracking functions.

An area of improvement is the development of the second generation Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT), which will allow transmitting emergency messages before the aircraft will be exposed to the crash impact, as early as the aircraft is in distress. The emergency message could include the aircraft ID and actual position.

Another means concerns a complex aircraft design change, which is the introduction of a new feature in civil commercial air transport: The Automatic Deployable Flight Recorder (ADFR) with integrated ELT. This recorder unit would be deployed in the event of an accident, and will therefore be less exposed by the crash impact. It will float on water. The integrated ELT would allow location of the accident, and it is therefore very important for rescuing survivors. It will be used subsequently to support searching the wreckage underwater and finally to recover the recorded fight data (CVR, FDR).

So, where are we? AIRBUS provides solutions for all existing regulations, for instance ELTs (survival type, and automatic type of ELTs) and Underwater Location Devices allowing sonar location. Other means, based on communications, as aircraft tracking are available as well, and can be installed on customer’s requests. In addition, Research and Development projects have been launched to study and to develop improved technical solutions, e.g. the Second generation ELT, Enhanced Aircraft Tracking, and the ADFR. One of the open points is the unknown future rulemaking progress of non-European States and the potential inconsistencies between them.

How do you overall assess the response of regulators to the issues raised by the accidents of AF447 and MH370? What would you like to recommend to authorities on the topic of aircraft tracking and aircraft localisation?

These two accidents raised high attention within all AIRBUS communities. Shortly after the AF447 accident, AIRBUS invested time, competences and energy together with Investigation organisations on many initiatives to find ways of improving aircraft and wreckage location. One of the initiatives was the “Flight Data Recovery Working Group”, which mainly focused on Triggered Flight Data Transmission and enhanced capabilities for underwater location devices. Many recommendation of this working group became standards incorporated in ICAO Annex 6, and in the latest amendment of Commission Regulation (EU) No 965/2012 on Air Operations (Third Edition/2015). We are working already on other requirements, where the effective date of regulations will be in the future, for instance “CAT.GEN.MPA.210 Location of an aircraft in distress”.

Our recommendations concerning related regulations are following: AIRBUS considers that EC/EASA implemented regulations in the most advanced way following ICAO SARPs of Annex 6, and recommendations, which were consolidated during the High Level Safety Conference of ICAO in 2015. With respect to this ICAO implementation, EC/EASA is leading the way of rulemaking worldwide. What we are observing is that other parts of the world are following slowly. The worst case would be that some administrations will follow different directions. Promoting global harmonisation is a key that would help finally all involved stakeholders.

Airbus believes that the best approach is for the industry to pursue the implementation of the EASA policy to establish on all new/amended regulation/requirements with “performance-driven regulations and requirements”. This policy became reality with the latest amendments on the operational regulation mentioned above. However, there is still room to build-on this policy in more ‘performance-driven’ bases. For example, there is one new regulation [CAT.IDE.A.285 (f) Flight over water], which requires an underwater locating device that operates at a frequency of 8,8 kHz ± 1kHz, However, this is nevertheless a rather prescriptive requirement. Therefore, Airbus very much feels that the continuation of EASA’s “performance-driven regulations and requirements” policy is the right way forward.

Are there, in your opinion, some difficulties ahead for aircraft manufacturers or operators to implement the measures related to aircraft tracking and aircraft localisation adopted by ICAO and the EU?

Airbus did not identify at that time show stopper to develop adequate solutions.

However, it should be noted that for a successful implementation of the whole concept, operators ground segment and also satellite service providers must contribute as well. There is a need that operators have to implement procedures in the communication chain allowing aircraft tracking consistently.

If I am boarding an Airbus aeroplane in five years’ time, can I trust that it will be located quickly in case of an emergency situation?

Even if AIRBUS will be able to provide highest level of design and technology standards, the final location capabilities remain dependent also on other organisations as well. The operators and the communication service providers have to contribute as well in order to re-gain the trust of final customers - the passengers - on A/C location.