The mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has aviation experts looking at new ways planes can automatically transmit black box data during flights. But creating a "live" black box is a surprisingly complex problem for the industry.
Mary Kirby, founder and editor of Runway Girl Network, a media company that covers the aviation industry, has been conducting interviews with industry experts about the problem. CBS News had some questions for her:
CBS MoneyWatch: Now that planes have in-flight Internet access, why is transmitting flight information such a difficult proposition?
Mary Kirby: Equipping planes with what is known as Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) -- which sends and receives information about an aircraft's position, speed and intent, with frequent updates to other aircraft and air traffic controllers -- represents one of the cornerstones of the United States' next-generation air transportation system.
But this is a highly regulated and unionized industry. It takes time and a lot of negotiation to implement changes that affect the equipment on planes and operations during flights. It's also expensive, so ADS-B isn't required until 2020.
CBS MoneyWatch: If expense is an issue, is there a cheaper solution?
MK: Experts are now looking at simpler systems for confirming aircraft location that would be easier to implement. An automated flight information reporting system, which is already in place on a reported 350 aircraft, continues to be touted by its makers as a cost-efficient solution for sending data from flight data recorders.
But there are other solutions that would not even need to be derived from the black box. Improvements are possible using periodic automatic broadcasts of location from the planes' navigational equipment. Now pilots are required to do verbal updates.
CBS MoneyWatch: That sounds relatively easy from a technical standpoint. What are the obstacles?
MK: One problem is figuring out who will receive the data on the ground. Airlines need systems in place to receive the data and turn it into usable information. Another problem: What is the connection? If it's broadband, then those systems need to be linked to the plane's computers. Using satellite connections would make more sense in the long run.
Still, I think that as more and more airlines equip their aircraft with broadband in-flight connectivity systems, we'll also see them use these pipes in creative ways to both drive operational benefits and potentially transmit more essential data to the ground.
Barry Schliesmann, chief product officer at [airline entertainment company] LiveTV, told me he thinks that we'll eventually be at the point where the carriers are buying the connectivity systems primarily for the operational benefits and secondarily for the passengers' use. His company announced it is being sold to Thales for $400 million and is bringing a "persistent fat connection" to JetBlue, United and Aer Lingus aircraft. He believes the missing Malaysia Airlines flight proves the industry needs to make better use of all technology solutions available.