Good morning. Welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety
Board and to this forum on Emerging Flight Data and Locator Technology. My
thanks to all of the panelists who will provide their perspectives and
I am Christopher Hart, and it is my privilege to serve as Acting Chairman of
the NTSB. Today, I will be joined on the dais by Dr. Joseph Kolly, Director of
our Office of Research and Engineering, and Mr. John DeLisi, Director of our
Office of Aviation Safety.
The NTSB depends on flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders to help
determine the causes of accidents and incidents in aviation. Because of their
value in investigations, rapid location and recovery of these recorders, and
access to the vital information they contain, are among our highest priorities.
Flight data recorders were first created specifically to capture information
after a crash, and were designed to survive the catastrophic conditions that a
crash can entail. Their introduction has been a boon to aviation safety. In many
cases recorders are the most significant source of useful information about an
accident, and in some cases, they are the only source.
As accident investigations exposed additional data needs, and as the
technology to meet these needs became more integral to aircraft, flight
recorders evolved. Now recorders capture many more parameters. Flight data are
accessible in ways other than storage on mandatory flight recorders, and are
increasingly being used by operators and manufacturers, as well as accident
investigators, for prevention, not just investigation.
Time and again, recorders have ensured the survival of accident data under
the harshest conditions. Time and again, they have yielded useful data despite
the traumatic forces of accident sequences, and despite subsequent immersion in
water or being engulfed in fire. The required underwater locator beacons
designed to guide searchers to submerged recorders are evolving as well.
The data that recorders preserve have shed light on accident circumstances,
helping to guide safety improvements. Through these improvements, they have
undoubtedly saved many lives – maybe yours or mine.
The data yielded by traditional recorders have been the sign-posts along the
path in our decades-long aviation safety journey. They have guided us to our
present era of unprecedented aviation safety.
But at the same time, progress has surged forward elsewhere in aviation.
Increased engine and system reliability allow today’s aircraft to fly farther
from a suitable landing point than ever before. Satellite tracking makes it
possible to monitor aircraft even in the most remote parts of the globe.
These advances have changed the way we fly. We routinely fly over the poles
to get to a destination more efficiently. Our flights span wide ocean expanses
instead of hugging the coastlines.
When an accident does happen, it may be in one of these remote locations. It
takes longer to respond, and it is more difficult to get the appropriate
resources to the search area.
The NTSB called this forum to reexamine traditional requirements in light of
today’s – and tomorrow’s – realities. One such reality has become glaringly
At present, for the data to be recovered, the recorders must be
recovered. This means that searchers must locate the aircraft wreckage and
retrieve the recorders.
In recent years, there have been a few exhaustive, expensive, and well
publicized searches for missing aircraft and their recorders. Such events have
raised serious concerns within the NTSB and in other safety organizations here
These concerns are far from academic. Without the data, the lessons of the
accident may remain forever unknown, because the circumstances of the accident
may remain forever uncertain.
We have all seen the human face of such uncertainty, the uniquely agonizing
human toll for those whose loved ones were aboard such flights. To those who
have endured such uncertainty, we offer our deepest sympathy.
It is our hope that the work we do here today can help to prevent such
uncertainty, while providing investigators the data that they need.
A wider effect of such tragic events is the loss of confidence that they
engender among the flying public.
In our age of seemingly unlimited information, we can sit at our computers
and call up aerial or street-level views of our homes. Our cars know precisely
where they are on a GPS grid. There are apps for our smartphones that can show
us where our friends and family members are.
Against this backdrop of ubiquitous information flow, when a flight cannot be
located, an incredulous public asks:
“How can they possibly lose a plane?”
But the application of new technology in aviation is itself a complex and
consequential process. Introducing new technology on an aircraft that carries
300 people, or into a navigation system that has to track thousands of aircraft,
requires forethought and caution.
The costs, downtime, maintenance, and training have to be accounted for in
the aviation industry. Regulators must harmonize their efforts across the global
Above all, it is of paramount importance to avoid unintended consequences
that may compromise safety.
A quick fix based on a hasty conclusion could result in lesser safety
benefits. Worse, such a “quick fix” could introduce hazards of its own.
In recent years, significant advances have been made that can aid in the
location of aircraft wreckage and help collect, transfer and distribute recorded
These innovations can be packaged and integrated in many ways. But to have
confidence in the benefits of any products or technologies, we need to fully
understand how they work, what they offer, how the users feel and how current
standards and regulations will impact their implementation.
Throughout this forum we will discuss the more efficient recovery of flight
data. We will examine ways to more quickly locate and retrieve traditional
recorders. We will explore recorders that deploy from the aircraft. We will
learn about means of transmitting data wirelessly in the case of an abnormal
Some of these technologies are already being used by commercial or military
operators. They make life easier: Operators can know whether a flight is on
time, proactively detect problems, and have a replacement part waiting when an
But to broadly implement such solutions, we have to ask the right questions:
How does each of these technologies work?
How might they be configured to work together, and to work with existing
systems in aviation?
What are the regulatory implications of implementing these technologies?
Who owns the data, what are its proper uses, and what privacy issues arise?
We will hear from aircraft manufacturers, manufacturers of avionics systems,
manufacturers offering new means of data retrieval, regulators, operators and
We welcome all of their points of view, because like an individual airplane,
aviation is a system. The many solutions that we have been working toward must
be successfully integrated into this system for the parts to work together as a
To do less would be to jeopardize the progress we have made on the aviation
safety journey, arrived at through decades of industry-wide collaboration,
regulatory guidance, and painstaking investigative work.
There is a future in which we know the fate of every accident flight. Today,
we hope to take one more step toward that future.
Now I will turn to Dr. Joseph Kolly, who, along with his staff and staff from
the office of aviation safety, has done an outstanding job in organizing this
forum. Dr. Kolly.