Whenever a plane hits the ground or disappears in the ocean all journalists are trained in an almost Pavlovian way to tell the story of The Black Box.
Return of the Technological God
A successful search and recover for the Black Box is close to being hailed as the return of the Technological God. The God, who just suffered a major blow in his credibility, with the destruction of an airplane and subsequent losses of lives.
The customers can be distracted away from the fact that Air France was unable to fly a plane safely from Rio to Paris, and be brought to trust the company again, when hopefully the Black Box is recovered with no expenses spared. Faith in Technology is important in this civilized world.
Infographic artists love technology too. A lot of our work goes to explain this or that new technology – or some old technology as is the case with the Black Box, which was invented 50 years ago, but still keeps the aura of being mysterious and holding answers otherwise hidden to man.
We call the flight recorders The Black Box to reinforce the mystic appearance – it sounds like a magical accessory more than anything else. Even when they are in reality two separate units painted orange for visibility and consisting mainly of a chip covered in protective gear, so it can be dropped hard, burnt and drowned and still be of some use.
Sometimes I see The Black Box explained in a newspaper – and always with some wow-factor included: It can hold 30 minutes of speech – wow! It will send out signals for 30 days – double-wow! Are these specifications really worth anything in this digital age?
Act like journalists when dealing with technology
Perhaps we should act like journalists more than priests and ask some relevant questions. Isn’t it time the system got upgraded? Get moving and let’s have some wireless flight recorders, so we don’t have to go through this worshipping of an outdated technology when disaster strikes. It would be nice to see some graphic stories about superior recording systems, which haven’t been implemented – due to costs, unions or whatever.
Granted – if the flight data was available to the companies right after a crash, it would be immensely harder to control the media. Tough questions would be asked upfront at the first press conference, and couldn’t be brushed aside with the ‘We’ll have to wait for The Black Box, and we’ll do anything to retrieve it’-answer.
Interestingly with AF447, it seems the ACARS-system transmits quite a few data, even if they do so in coded telex-style. And it seems the release of these few data are already giving Air France some communication-problems. Imagine if they had to handle even more data – it could end up being easier to just tell the story right away and tone down on the crisis management.
El Mundo ran this, based on Reuters:
Graphic News gave us this, which has appeared regularly the since TWA800 and even made a guest appearance when the Shuttle crashed:
AFP made this interactive graphic:
The rectangular flight recorder pictured in these graphics are not for sale anymore – I checked with the manufacturers website, although they still support them. Perhaps its time to draw a new one. Maybe like the one BBC made back in 2003, which incidentally looks a lot like the Flight recorder on the crashed Airbus 330.