What Matters – Searching the Ocean or Reinventing the Black Box?
Last week I entered a writing competition. I love English and my school encouraged all students to enter the Whitlam Institute’s “What Matters” Writing competition.
This blog post is my entry (it is actually a longer version than what I entered into the competition). I found cutting my document down to fit in the 600 word maximum was hard. I have attached my shorter 600 actual PDF entry. My little sister Ruby’s also entered.
Here it is, I hope you like it.
Searching the Ocean or Reinventing the Black Box?
Nothing will be there
MH 370 is lost. Perhaps forever. Everyone wants to find the plane, but more importantly people want answers, the answers that lie within the Black Box. Unfortunately even if the plane is found, people are going to be very disappointed when they discover that the Black Box (more specifically, the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR)) is as useful as an ashtray on an aeroplane. It will be useless because of a technical limitation that the mainstream media is not talking about, but the famous Captain De Crespigny warned us about, after his QF32 incident.
When people say “Black Box”, often they mean the CVR. In the case of MH 370 the important pilot conversations were around the 38 minute mark when the pilots last communicated. The CVR records the pilots valuable conversations, but not the entire journeys, only the last 2 hours. The regulation used to be only a 30 minute loop until 2008, but 6 years ago it was increased to a 2 hour loop. I strongly believe this is inadequate and Australian scientists should reinvent the Black Box.
Australians care for the families of MH 370. Many of us are nursing tender hearts for them. Australians have invested more in the search than any other country. We have shown we care by spending vast sums of money and resources. This made sense when it was within the 30 day period of the Black Box sending out pings.
Tony Abbott has been on the world stage giving critical updates. (I was hoping he would use this opportunity to remind Australians and the world that we invented the Black Box, but alas…)
Australians have already spent many millions on this search, I think about $100 million and now Tony Abbot is committing to another 12 months and another $60 million. This is unsustainable in the long run.
This recovery of Malaysia Airlines 370 should have been so much easier. In 2009 an Air France flight went down and it took two years to find the flight data recorders. Despite many debates, nothing was done to improve the discoverability of the Black Box in a crash.
Of course this is a sad situation, but finding the plane is not only expensive, but most likely fruitless. The Black Box is only designed for 30 days of signals, the pings have finished and now we are going to try to search an entire ocean floor, something that has never been done before. This is a large ocean to search and instead we must make tough decisions. We need to abandon improbable missions.
The short term vs long term
I am deeply worried about the current approach of trying to find the plane. Australians continue to risk their lives trying to locate this missing Malaysian aircraft in the bitter Southern Indian Ocean.
The current campaign to find the Black Box is a temporary fix but what we need is a long term solution.
There are many things that need improving with the Black Box that was invented in the 1950s. We need the recorder to eject just before impact is detected, we need a recorder to last the length of the longest flight, we need cameras in the cockpit, we need equipment that cannot be disabled by pilots, we need all the data streamed real-time. I say it is a great time to put our time and money into a reinvented Black Box.
In addition to commissioning this search, this year our Prime Minister Tony Abbott has done two other huge things, one great and one grave.
The great is that he announced the building of a new airport. (By the way I hope he calls it after the Australian inventor of the Black Box. Sydney’s second airport would sound great being called the David Warren Airport.)
Mr Abbott has also made a grave decision that can only lead to less innovation by future Australians. He announced that the government will reduce funding to Australia’s foremost research lab, the CSIRO.
I visited the CSIRO during the making of my Wi-Fi video. It is a place of scientific magic, world firsts around every corner. These scientists toil long hours without the adulation of adoring fans. The invention of Wi-Fi brought Australia $450 million. This is one amongst many inventions that have earned significant money and respect for Australia.
Despite CSIRO’s importance and their many successes, Mr Abbott has cut funding by $150 million this year. This makes it harder to be a smart and innovative nation. This amount of money is a similar amount that he is pouring into the Southern Indian Ocean.
Imagine what would have happened if the government had cut $150 million from the sports budget. It would have caused a public outcry!
Some of the problems will be expensive to solve, some will be hard. However I was really disappointed to discover that some of the problems have already been fixed, but not commercially implemented, such as the ejectable Black Box.
The cost of the second “deployable/ejectable CVDR” (or “Black Box”) was estimated at $30 million for installation in 500 new aircraft (about $60,000 per new commercial plane). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flight_recorder
I wish Boeing and Airbus would implement this straight away, but regardless I would like the Australian Government to make this compulsory for our planes. This has been done before, in 1963 Australia was the first country in the world to mandate the installation of a Black Box in all our planes. It was after this that the USA, UK and other countries followed.
The cost for continuing the search for Malaysia Flight MH 370 is $60 million for the next 12 months. The choice is a short term expensive find or a long term solution. The answer to me seems obvious.
As the country that invented the Black Box, it is our responsibility to keep the all-important Black Boxes up-to-date, using today’s fast moving world of technology. We should choose to take the money out of the deep sea search and instead invest in the CSIRO, the place where the Black Box should be improved for the safety of all mankind who travel the skies.
Please post a comment on my blog. I want to send Tony Abbott a package with everyone’s comments telling him that he should spend more on Science and Technology and less on MH 370.