The European Union is enacting new rules that will help authorities find airplanes more easily in the event of accidents like the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines flight in 2014. Under the rules, the underwater locators in planes’ black boxes will have to work for 90 days instead of the current 30 days, Bloomberg reported Wednesday.
The regulations will go into effect by mid-2018, and by the end of that year, airlines will be required to track their aircraft over oceans, a provision added in response to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The loss of that plane, which was carrying 239 people from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, prompted the world’s longest search for a commercial plane.
Beyond making the black boxes easier to find, the EU’s new regulations also require the devices to collect more information that will help investigators once they find the objects. As of January 2021, the cockpit voice recorder will need to record conversations for 25 hours, far longer than the currently mandated two hours.
“The new rules will improve the tracking of European aircraft and the location of aircraft in distress anywhere in the world,” the European Commission, the EU’s 28-nation executive arm, said in a statement Wednesday, Bloomberg reported. “In case of an accident over water, they will also allow for a quick localization of the wreckage and a swift recovery of the data contained in the flight recorders.”
The commission discussed the regulations with EU governments over the summer and then took them to the European Parliament before enacting them this week. In the wake of several high-profile plane crashes in recent months, Europe is hoping to set an example as regulators in other parts of the world also consider new technological standards that would help investigations, Bloomberg reported.
This year’s Russian plane crash in Egypt as well as the Germanwings plane that went down in the French Alps and a 2009 incident in which an Air France jet crashed in the Atlantic Ocean have all contributed to the commission’s thinking on the new requirements.
The search for Flight 370 has been particularly confusing to authorities because the plane sent no emergency warnings before disappearing from radar tracking. The only clue investigators have is a set of seven attempted data communications between the plane and an Inmarsat satellite. These communications have led to a focus on the southern Indian Ocean, but little new information has been recovered.
EU officials said their new rules aim to ensure fewer gaps in information after planes leave the ground. In the future, when a plane loses contact with normal radar operations, its black box should allow investigators to locate it more quickly and learn more about what caused the abnormality.