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January 28, 2008

Release the FDR/CVR/QAR data to the public

Here's a post that I submitted on the Professional Pilots Rumor Network today. My suggestion is that the mysterious crash of Flight BA037 would be solved more quickly if all of the data was released to the public. Apparently, although it's intuitively clear to me. this is a revolutionary concept to some people.


Release the FDR/CVR/QAR data to the public

I'm surprised that no one has called for the AAIB to post the data from the FDR/CVR/QAR in a public forum. They should, and for a variety of reasons. First of all, it's public information. Secondly, it's in the public's best interest that it be published, and the sooner it's made available, the safer the public will be.

Some people say "stop trying to figure out what happened and just wait for the AAIB to tell us". That's fine if that's what they want to do. But, IMHO, it's not the quickest way to solve what happened on BA038.

The quickest way to figure out what happened on BA038 is to make all data publicly available as soon as possible. Then, everyone on the planet can look at the data and try to figure out what caused the accident. They can do it around the clock from all over the globe.

The problem is that, on this forum, we’re working at a disadvantage. We spend half of our time guessing at things we’d know if the data was made available to us. We weren’t allowed to hear the statements from the pilot and the copilot. We don’t know what messages they saw in the cockpit. We guess at their approach and their glideslope and whether they followed a CDA all the way in. We were guessing for days about whether the engines were running or whether they were shut down. Guessing at when the APU door opened. Whether the RAT was deployed. We guess at the OAT and the fuel temperature. All of that is on the FDR.

Think how much further along we’d be at determining the cause of this crash if we had all the data. Think how much faster we could come to a reasonable conclusion about what caused the accident if we had all of the facts available to us that the AAIB is sitting on. Think how much further along the AAIB would be if we were helping them analyze the data. Think about that for a minute.

I personally believe that the aircraft investigations could be speeded up immensely. Just think if every morning the AAIB guys read up on everything that was posted here in this forum while they drank their coffee. It’s not too far fetched. The news crews are doing it already. The magazines and the Daily Mail and the television shows are already reading our posts. We know that for a fact. And we were given precious little to go on. Only the stuff we could glean from disparate sources. A few photos. A cell phone video.

This is a new world that we are living in. The AAIB is a government bureaucracy. They don’t need to go away, but they need to adapt to the changes that have occurred. They need to open up their data to take advantage of the ruthless efficiency of the internet. So that everyone all over the world can review the data, hypothesize, criticize, speculate, and ultimately help deduce what went wrong.

Now, allow me to pre-empt some of the nay say-sayers, as I’m sure there will be many. The following objections will be raised:

1. Only AAIB/NTSB investigators are qualified to determine what caused the crash.
2. The data is private, sensitive, or confidential.
3. Because there is potential liability involved on behalf of Boeing, Rolls-Royce, or British Airways the data can’t be made public.
4. The pilot’s have a right to privacy.
5. They would come to the wrong conclusion.
6. There’s no benefit from making the data public.

Each of these potential assertions are refuted in the extended entry.

1. Only AAIB/NTSB investigators are qualified to determine what caused the crash. - First of all there will be the usual objections that the general public isn't qualified to speculate on the cause of the accident. Most people are too ignorant or too dumb to contribute to the analysis, etc. This is a charge that I see leveled here, and also on AirDisaster.com(RIP), AirLiners.net, JetPhotos.net, etc.

The problem is that this assertion misses the mark. It betrays a lack of understanding of how a complicated system regulates itself. It's the same argument people level against Wikipedia. If anyone can edit it, how can it possibly be accurate? But, the reality is that Wikipedia and bulletin board threads rely on the wisdom of crowds.

The “wisdom of the crowd? theory says that, even though some people will make incorrect statements, these will be corrected by others with more expertise in that particular area. I’d argue that the expertise on this forum is collectively as good as the expertise that the AAIB has at it’s disposal.

I fly every week (as a passenger) and have for nearly 20 years. So, I'm interested in the plane crash, but I don't pretend to know anything about planes. However, by following the discussions on four different bulletin boards, I've learned a lot since the BA038 accident.

I have changed my mind several times as I have read the various discussion groups. First, I thought they ran out of fuel. Then, I thought it was a software errors that shut down the FADEC engines. Then, I figured it was a sensor-related error. Right now, I’m leaning toward fuel waxing and/or fuel contaminants, possibly an incorrect fuel temperature because the sensor wasn’t in contact with the fuel.

But this is all OK. This is the normal way that these airplane crashes are solved. This is the same process that the AAIB/NTSB goes though behind closed doors. You come up with a theory, other people throw darts at it, and we get closer and closer to solving the riddle.

I haven't felt that I had anything to contribute, of course, so I've just read all of the posts up to this point. But, if something were posted that I knew to be wrong, then I'd have posted something. And there are LOTS of people like me out here, as demonstrated by the load on the servers. So, think about that. The forum is self correcting, because all of these people are out here reviewing the information, and posting only if something posted is incorrect.

It's a self-correcting system. This is how the “wisdom of crowds? works. It isn’t pretty, but it is very effective.

2. The data is private, sensitive, or confidential. - Data related to a plane crash should not be treated as private or privileged information. The information relating to a plane crash belongs in the public domain. It is in the public’s best interest to determine what caused any airline accident as quickly as possible, so that Airworthiness Directives can be issued to prevent similar accidents. Lives are at stake. Lives of flying passengers, and lives of people on the ground.

Certainly in a nanny-state like the UK where people are filmed 24/7, secure beneath the watchful eyes, one can’t expect any privacy. And if the citizens don’t have any privacy, then why on earth should the public be keeping anything from the citizens? What reason and what right have they to conceal plane crash data from the public? What good could it possibly serve? Unless they're trying to cover something up, then they should release the data. If they have nothing to hide, then the data should be made public and the sooner the better. This includes the interviews with the pilots. The FDR/CVR/QAR data...everything.

3. Because there is potential liability involved on behalf of Boeing, Rolls-Royce, or British Airways the data can’t be made public. - Although we have the right to speculate as to the causes of the accident, that’s all that we’re doing here is speculating. The AAIB will still obviously have the final say in determining what caused the accident. Obviously, the legal authority will still rest with them, and they will determine which parties (if any) are at fault and legally liable in the incident(s).

4. The pilot’s have a right to privacy. - The rights of the public should supersede the pilots' rights to privacy. They are, or should, be compelled to talk to the AAIB, and the information that they convey should be made available to the public. This is in the public’s best interest. You give up certain rights when you are responsible for public transportation. When people’s lives are in your hands, you can’t be drunk or stoned, so you have to consent to certain invasions of your privacy to guarantee the safety of the public. Here, in this case, we should say – “Look, if the plane crashes, you have to tell us what happened. That’s all there is too it. It’s too important.?

5. They would come to the wrong conclusion. - What's the worst that could happen? In the worst case scenario, the public might come to the wrong conclusion(s). So what? Then the AAIB and the NTSB can ignore them. The public is going to come to their own conclusions anyway. There are tons of people that think the moon landings were filmed in Arizona. That 9/11 was an inside job. The conspiracy theories will always exist, and the best way to counter them is to release all of the data and let the public come to their own conclusions.

6. There’s no benefit from making the data public. - There is a great benefit to releasing the data. Every day, 777's take off in Asia, fly across the arctic circle, and descend on CDA's to land in Europe and America. There has been no AD issued from this accident. The AAIB has not discovered the cause of the accident. Lives are at risk. The lives of pilots and passengers and people on the ground. The clock is ticking.

Finally, in closing - let me say - I'm not a pilot. I'm not an AAIB/NTSB investigator. I don't claim any airplane/airport expertise. So, please...don't try to pick apart what I've said by saying "the fuel temperature is not recorded on the FDR" or "he's wrong about the approach or the glideslope." Again, that's not my expertise. My expertise is in computers. The only thing I have to contribute to this forum is this suggestion for your consideration - that we would be way ahead of where we are now if we had all the data the AAIB has, and IMHO, that the world would be better off if the data was made public. There's no compelling reason that I can see that the data isn't made available to the public.

That's all I have to say on the matter. Let the insults begin.

Posted by Rob Kiser on January 28, 2008 at 5:52 AM


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