It's been more than three years since Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 vanished, and after spending $150 million and scouring a huge chunk of the Indian Ocean, the international search effort has turned up just a few scraps of metal. It now seems likely investigators will never find the bulk of the wreckage nor the Boeing 777's black boxes, and as a result will never really know why it went down, or how to prevent it happening again.
Airbus says it has a solution: deployable flight data recorders. On large planes that frequently fly over water or remote areas, the European aircraft manufacturer will install a second, redundant black box near the rear of the fuselage, with a mechanical ejection system.
If the plane crashes into the ocean, the recorder will pop out to safety, floating and pinging away with an emergency locator transmitter, to help rescue teams find it and its valuable testimony about what went wrong. The ejection function is just one feature of Airbus' new black boxes (which are actually fluorescent orange), which are smaller and more capable than the current generation, able to record 25 hours of cockpit voice and data, up from the current two hours.
The recorder will only eject in the event of "major structural deformation" or submersion in six feet of water, which should reassure airlines that it won't accidentally deploy in heavy turbulence or on hard landings. And the spring loaded mechanical system will be more palatable than earlier proposals for an explosive ejection system.
"The more digitized the airplane becomes, the more valuable that information is," says air safety specialist, Christine Negroni, author of The Crash Detectives, Investigating the World's Most Mysterious Air Disasters. She followed the search for MH370 in Malaysia, and says finding a data recorder would have made all the difference. "We would have had much faster and more specific knowledge, and a faster recovery to start picking stuff up. Now we may never know what happened."