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Do the manufacturers who build airplanes use their own "black boxes" in the planes, or are there companies whose sole purpose is to develop black boxes?

For example, in 2010 in the Airblue Flight 202 incident, the black box had to be sent to Germany for data recovery:

He stated that the box would be examined by "foreign experts" in Germany or France as Pakistan does not possess the equipment to decode the flight recorders. He also stated that the process of extracting information may take six months to a year. The Pakistani authorities decided to send the CVR and FDR to the Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile (BEA) in France.

It is not clear who developed that black box. Was it the same company that manufactured the airplane?

Also, can the buying airline use their own black box or their own security protocols for data encryption or encoding, to avoid having to send the black box out for analysis?

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1 Answer 1

up vote 16 down vote accepted

There's seldom a reason for manufacturers to design and build their own black boxes. It's expensive to run a production line to design, build a test a few. It's just cheaper to get an agreement with a company to make them for you. The second photo below shows a popular recurring model from Honeywell, which appears to have been used on the A330, B737 and B777.

Opening the black box can be a sensitive operation, especially if there's the fear that the chips might have been damaged. It's better to send it to somebody who's done it before rather than trying to master it on the first attempt, especially if you don't have the resources. Airplanes accidents don't happen very often.

Note that the case you're referring to, the Aircraft also appears to have been built by Airbus in Hamburg, and hence the German Accident Board automatically gets involved as well, much like how the NTSB gets involved in all Boeing crashes.

smash

A smashed up flight data recorder.

asiana crash

A photo from the NTSB with the Asiana flight 214 recorders

Another reason for this is if there might be political motives behind the crash, it's preferred to send it to a third party for analysis which is less susceptible to bias or interference.

If I gather correctly, data on the flight data recorder won't be encrypted at all- it will be fed out as serial data, but you will need the devices and software to understand this information, and if the outside connection is broken, you'll need to work your way to the chips themselves.

readout

Photo showing apparently how black box are 'read'.

Furthermore, sending it to the company is not always a good idea- they might have motives to change the truth, especially if it was caused by dodgy maintenance or bad training, nor to the manufacturer, if it was production error. The accident investigation board is the best people for this matter.

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@SufiyanGhori I can't seem to find evidence for any large aircraft manufacturers that build their own. –  MikeFoxtrot Mar 17 at 19:18
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@SufiyanGhori Accident investigation boards are (hopefully) non-biased and experts at this sort of thing and normally always do the readout (or supervise it at least i think), but sometimes it's better to send it to a larger group of accident investigators if you're own department is only a small one. –  MikeFoxtrot Mar 17 at 19:20
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@SufiyanGhori The criteria for black boxes is very strict and extensive testing is required to certify them, such as fire, water and impact testing . There are a lot of specialized materials inside them like fireproof covering and shock-proof electronics, that need special skills to design and build, so even Boeing will get somebody else to do it for them, rather than having to hire people and do it themselves, especially if there are companies (such as honeywell) who have know-how and build for everybody, but if they really wanted to, I see no reason why they could not build their own. –  MikeFoxtrot Mar 17 at 19:34
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@SufiyanGhori Boeing and Airbus even get their landing gear built by specialized companies who have the specialized knowledge and tools abroad, as for the engines. –  MikeFoxtrot Mar 17 at 19:38
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@Manfred Re: your last paragraph, the investigative agencies take the protocol surrounding the "black box" very seriously for precisely this reason. The NTSB has even gone so far as to kick an airline out of the investigative process because they accessed the Flight Data Recorder before turning it over to the NTSB for analysis. –  voretaq7 Mar 17 at 20:59

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