back to article UK's air accident cops are slurping data from pilots' fondleslabs

A British government agency has been downloading data from iPads and similar devices used by pilots of crashed aircraft, it has emerged. The Air Accident Investigation Branch routinely recovers data from tablets found in the wreckage of aircraft crashes. Such tablets are normally used by pilots of light aircraft with …

Bronze badge

Good to see the AAIB keeping up with modernity!

I hadn't really thought about using phones/tablets as blackbox recorders it situations where a proper BBR is not economically viable. Pretty neat stuff to hear about!

24
0
Silver badge

Re: Good to see the AAIB keeping up with modernity!

Quite so. I would hope that there have been insufficient accidents for the AAIB to come to any statistically meaningful conclusions but I wonder if - on balance - the use of modern electronics such as ipads adds to, or detracts from, general aviation safety.

Whatever became of maps strapped to legs? And how long will it be before getting an Instrument Rating requires the demonstration of competence with an ipad?

14
0
Silver badge

Re: Good to see the AAIB keeping up with modernity!

Well they've already added GPS management to car licences it's only a matter of time.

3
2
Silver badge

Re: Good to see the AAIB keeping up with modernity!

@ Sgt_Oddball

"GPS Management"??

.. am I the only one upon reading that I instantly think of GPS blockers as notoriously used by so many professional drivers who have GPS trackers fitted to their vehicles

1
0
Silver badge

Re: Good to see the AAIB keeping up with modernity!

AAIB has been keeping up for a long time now, since the days of the Garmin II plus in 1998 and serial GPS dongles attached to Palmpilots.

It's El Reg that's 20 years late with the story.

17
0
Silver badge

Re: Good to see the AAIB keeping up with modernity!

More being able to actually use one with some common sense.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: Good to see the AAIB keeping up with modernity!

"A British government agency has been downloading data from iPads and similar devices used by pilots of crashed aircraft, it has emerged."

Emerged? Does that mean you just found out about it?

I must say, I usually enjoy Gareth's articles but he seems to have dropped the ball on this one.

And yes, as Adam 52 says, all possible sources of information are considered when investigating an accident (not just in civil aviation). This may include also, btw, access to online information the pilot(s) may or may not have accessed.

Finally, I should like to reproduce here the disclaimer on the front page of every AAIB report (other countries have similar mandatory disclaimers):

"The sole objective of the investigation of an accident or incident under these Regulations is the prevention of future accidents and incidents. It is not the purpose of such an investigation to apportion blame or liability."

"Accordingly, it is inappropriate that AAIB reports should be used to assign fault or blame or determine liability, since neither the investigation nor the reporting process has been undertaken for that purpose."

7
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: Good to see the AAIB keeping up with modernity!

As I understand it (which may well be incorrect!), in pursuance of an investigation the AAIB has considerable powers, takes precedence over a police investigation, and cannot be compelled by a court to release any information it acquires to form part of a civil / criminal proceedings.

AFAIK the intention is that persons involved in an incident are going to be more willing to divulge information to the AAIB (which is then able to produce a better report) knowing that it won't end up in the hands of prosecutors.

So, quite a lot of responsibility. But it's arrangements like this that result in the aviation industry being so incredibly safe compared to, say, walking, driving, etc. That is a good thing.

11
0
Silver badge
Pint

"...GPS blockers as notoriously used by so many professional drivers..."

"...GPS blockers as notoriously used by so many professional drivers..."

Many?

If such GPS blockers (jammers?) are emitting significant signals, as the vehicles are driving around, then it would be fairly simple to install some traps to snare them. Imagine a Speed Camera like device, but fitted with a moderately high gain L-band antenna aimed down the road. When it detects significant RF approaching, it arranges itself to capture images of the vehicle in question.

Back at GPS Jammer HQ, they sift through the images to look for multiple hits from the same vehicle (to minimize the inconvenience of false positives). Then Constable Booby and the RF Enforcement Squad drops around unannounced with a warrant (to disassemble the vehicle if necessary).

It could be self-funding as the fines would be adjusted to make it so. Hopefully they'd put themselves out of business within a couple of years.

As the offenders are essentially sitting ducks, it would become a very risky business.

1
0
Silver badge

Re: "...GPS blockers as notoriously used by so many professional drivers..."

"Imagine a Speed Camera like device, but fitted with a moderately high gain L-band antenna aimed down the road."

I don't think OFCOM have the money or power do that. I'm not even sure anything illegal is happening by using the jammer unless the user is driving a stolen car. It depends on the band in use and the power of the jammers transmitter. I think the OP is talking about people driving company owned vehicles and not being happy that their every move is being tracked. It might cost them their job if caught, but it's not a fine or prison sentence.

0
4

Re: "...GPS blockers as notoriously used by so many professional drivers..."

"I'm not even sure anything illegal is happening by using the jammer"

From memory any transmission on a frequency you're not permitted to use is illegal. I can't imagine OFCOM are handing out licenses to transmit on the same frequencies as GPS and I'm certain they are not listed in the ISM bands that are a bit of free-for-all.

6
0

Re: "...GPS blockers as notoriously used by so many professional drivers..."

"Imagine a Speed Camera like device"

Alas, the RAF used to have a device that achieved somewhat similar functionality, it also happened to be rocket powered and instead of just taking photos it could rapidly relocate itself, complete with explosive payload, into the vicinity of the jammer. Unfortunately it was retired a few years back so you might need to ask the USAF to help instead.

3
0
x 7
Silver badge

Re: "...GPS blockers as notoriously used by so many professional drivers..."

GPS blockers also block mobile phone signals

that WILL cause issues

0
0
Silver badge

Re: Good to see the AAIB keeping up with modernity!

.. am I the only one upon reading that I instantly think of GPS blockers as notoriously used by so many professional drivers who have GPS trackers fitted to their vehicles

Given that these systems interface into operations management and customer information interfaces, I think that the company operating such tracking systems would immediately notice that delivery van 5402 wasn't showing up on the tracking system, and flag that to the M&E maintenance team. When they find no fault and next day another van develops the same temporary fault, they'll quickly put two and two together to work out that that "problem" seems to be correlated with specific drivers.

2
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: "...GPS blockers as notoriously used by so many professional drivers..."

> I think the OP is talking about people driving company owned vehicles and not being happy that their every move is being tracked

There are two things I never really understood about this, and would be thankful if someone could shed some light.

1. You voluntarily take up employment with a company that recruits you to drive their vehicle from one place to another. The company wants to know where its property and that of its clients are, and provide the driver with a degree of safety, by installing tracker on their commercial vehicles (artics and the like). If the driver has a problem with that, why did he / she / it take the job in the first place?

2. As you track the vehicles, and especially as you look at the historic logs, it must be painfully obvious when someone is interfering with the tracking devices.

1
0
Silver badge

Re: "...GPS blockers as notoriously used by so many professional drivers..."

Most people seem to be looking at the most obvious uses for tracking vehicles, eg deliveries etc. where there definite benefits in tracking and secuity, but are missing the people most likely to feel the Big Brother effect, eg sales reps, field engineers etc that may have company cars and were not being tracked when they started but it's been introduced afterwards because someone at the head office saw a presentation by a sales guy talking about how much money they could save by directing the nearest sales guy/engineer/whatever to where they are most needed.

As for the comment upthread about transmitting on GPS frequencies, the tracker don't talk back to the nav-sats. They just calculate position from them. The tracker most likely sends data back over the mobile phone network, so yes they are probably illegal to use but I still stand by the fact that it's not the Polices job to police the airwaves and OFCOM have neither the money nor resources to deal with something like this unless it becomes a widespread and highly noticeable problem.

1
0
Silver badge

Re: "...GPS blockers as notoriously used by so many professional drivers..."

"It could be self-funding"

_Use_ of a GPS blocker (or any other kind of jammer) in the UK has penalties of unlimited fines and up to 2 years keeping Norman Stanley Fletcher company.(*)

Selling them only has a £5000 fine and 6 months attached to it.

So yes, it could be a nice little earner, but I suspect the hard part would be getting the police to take any interest whatsoever in it. Perhaps someone at El Reg could get canonical statements from Ofcom and the Plod about how to report such things when they're found on Britain's highways and byways.

(*) I'll bet that using one in such a way that it endangers aircraft or railway systems comes with a set of even longer penalties. The ones above are just for the operation of the transmitter.

0
0
Silver badge

Re: "...GPS blockers as notoriously used by so many professional drivers..."

More likely the cars stolen and the GPS blocker is to jam any tracking device the car might have. Yes the plod might be able to sort the car but unless thru get lucky by the time they're anywhere near where the car had been, it'll be long gone.

0
0
Silver badge

This

is a good thing.

7
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: This

is a good thing.

Any tool that can help narrow down the cause is a good thing, from the fact they can tell if a lamp was lit during the period, to the speed determination from things like the dents in the deceased.

It all helps and sometimes creates changes in the handbooks.

Unless they start producing a cheaper BBR or mandate them on small aircraft, I'm all for them using downloaded data from personal devices

3
0
Silver badge
Joke

Re: This

is a good thing.

Even if the report conclusion is that the crash was caused by the pilot being distracted by a new candy crush high score?

6
1
Silver badge

Re: This

Especially if the report conclusion is that the crash was caused by the pilot being distracted by a new candy crush high score.

6
0
Silver badge
Holmes

There's a thought....

How about mandating the use of some hardened USB device to plumb into a device and act as a Black box directly from iPad/tablet/fancy laptop with GPS so that there's less mucking about with broken kit and instead a nice robust USB drive ready to plug and play without the password/pin number mucking about ?

1
5
Silver badge

Re: There's a thought....

Because if it was anything like the GPS in my car the height information would be wildly out. And I mean wildly.

And a "proper" black box provides far, far more information than simple positional data, even assuming that data to be correct.

6
3
Silver badge

Re: There's a thought....

> if it was anything like the GPS in my car the height information would be wildly out

And that's why airplanes have an altimeter, and rely on that instead. GPS is only used for positioning data in aircraft. AND it's not the fondleslab's GPS, it's a panel instrument that must have WAAS, a nice antenna, and be compliant with FAA regs as to accuracy and other things.

8
1
Silver badge

Re: There's a thought....

That's why I was trying to pour cold water on the idea of trying to have a permanent download and record of an ipad's GPS. Relying on a GPS aerial inside an aircraft doesn't sound like a good idea anyway.

GPS aside an ipad isn't going to record airspeed / position of control surfaces / altimeter pressure setting / aircraft attitude and so on.

0
2
Silver badge

Re: There's a thought....

Altimeters aren't magical, just a barometer with an output that reads in feet rather than inches of mercury. Ever seen a barometer go up or down an inch in an hour in changable weather? If your in a plane then that's your altitude, which could be a problem if ground level is reporting as 500 feet. People have crashed when overly relying on altimeters before and i'm sure people will do it again in the future.

You should be aware of the limitations of the instruments and avoid relying on them when they might be inaccurate. ie, reported airspeed and truespeed are different things, as if there is a 30mph headwind then the truespeed is 30mph slower than you think. Assuming the pitot tubes aren't blocked...

7
3
Silver badge

Re: There's a thought....

A post that demonstrates that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

I was going to start correcting the errors (perhaps staring with simple things like "reported airspeed" and "truespeed"), but I'd have been here all night. However in the interests of helping out, perhaps I could just boil the post down to the undoubtedly correct sentiment that "pressure altitude is not the same as height and it can be dangerous to conflate them"?

6
1
Silver badge

Re: There's a thought....

"A post that demonstrates that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing."

Quite so. A large part of pilot training is book-work. By the time they qualify, all pilots will have been taught (and passed various tests) in the difference between indicated airspeed, true airspeed and ground speed, as well as course, heading and track. Not to mention QFE, QNH, regional QNH, height, altitude, flight level etc. etc.

8
0
Silver badge

Re: There's a thought....

It's not meant to replace a Black box, nor is it advocating replacing instruments with an off the shelf device.

All I was proposing was something to record some information rather than a total absence of any kind of recording at all. Preferably in a package that's cheap (compared with a Black box) and rugged enough to survive a crash.

Mainly because if the as the article already suggests that the crash investigators are already trying to obtane this information it just might make investigations easier if there was a more accessible and cheaper device capable of being accessed without requiring family intervention in a package that's more likely to survive than the device it's attached to.

Now if you have a better solution for light aircraft pilots I'm all ears.

5
0
Silver badge

Re: There's a thought....

But in the total absence of any other information, something is better than nothing for investigators surely?

2
0
Silver badge

Re: There's a thought....

All I was proposing was something to record some information rather than a total absence of any kind of recording at all. Preferably in a package that's cheap (compared with a Black box) and rugged enough to survive a crash.

Several gigs of flash, a GPS, an accelerometer, air pressure sensor and a microphone, plus a battery wouldn't need to be larger than a box of matches. With a robust casing you'd be well underway to provide a bit of a black box for light aircraft. Even when GPS and the pressure sensor don't provide absolute accuracy, an investigator arriving at the scene would register the exact position so that the offset with the recorded data can be calculated. Same, to some extent, with the pressure recording. And a microphone will allow both the pilot's voice "Oh bother, the left wing is gone" as well as engine noise (revs, sputtering, cutting out) to be recorded. While the AAIB can determine that, for instance, the engine cut out shortly before the crash, the recording would help to set a timeline: was it five seconds, half a minute or two minutes?

4
0
Silver badge

Re: There's a thought....

So basically a more advanced dash cam? That's not a bad thought. Raspberry pi could manage all the add-ons cheaply enough as well....... might be onto something.

1
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: There's a thought....

After the loss of MH370, there's serious moves to have blackbox data live egressed off airliners back to some appropriate secure data centre. This has been possible for a long time (Inmarsat offer a suitable service AFAIK), but because it costs money no / few airlines had taken it up. The loss of MH370 has probably caused a bit of a re-think amongst aviation regulators.

However, this is not much of an option for light aircraft / small helicopters.

There's quite a lot of data you can extract from the sound recording. If the engine noise is audible (which it is on a helicopter, small aircraft, even quite large airliners) you can judge power settings, RPM, etc. reasonably well. The sound of the air rushing past can give a crude indication of airspeed, and whether or not there was rain / hail hitting the windscreen. All useful information in the absence of anything else.

3
0
Silver badge
Pint

Re: There's a thought....

"...not meant to replace a Black box..."

Although intended for maintenance purposes, you're describing a QAR.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quick_access_recorder

One crash investigation was temporarily flummoxed by the oddity that the QAR data terminated significantly before the crash. It took them a while, but they eventually figured out that the QAR (unlike a Black Box which by design minimizes such things) was buffering the data in RAM before writing it out to the non-volatile flash memory. So that most-recent chunk of QAR data, buffered in RAM, just up and disappeared with the crash. With that technology detail sorted, the temporal mystery evaporated.

So the QAR offered no information about the critical final moments. Which was disappointing to the investigators.

Latency, bad. Buffering in volatile memory, bad. Design, requires care.

I assume that the applicable specs must have defined all this for Black Boxes. But not QARs, as they're just for Maintenance purposes.

1
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: There's a thought....

> People have crashed when overly relying on altimeters before

Can you give an example?

I'm asking because we take into account a bunch of error sources that we collectively refer to as "altimeter error" and budget for that in air traffic management. That is for example why we separate aircraft vertically by a certain minimum amount, which may be dependent on what kind of instruments you have, and why we have minimum altitudes and mix/max temperatures and such.

I am aware of accidents that have happened because the altimeter was set to the wrong datum, or because it was misread by the pilot (a notoriously easy mistake to make with old school mechanical stuff) but I never heard of an incident caused by unmitigated system errors.

0
0

Its a pity

That the IPAD apps didn't flag that he was flying into marginal conditions given his licence.

1
1
Black Helicopters

The Aircrash Bureau

Hello, I'm the aircrash bureau

I bet you're so surprised to see me

I could specialize in rumors

I'll send shivers up your spine

Pilot, back, I need my squadron

I was flying before D-Day

Now I'm warning you of falling

I'll tell you when you're going down

0
0
Anonymous Coward

If I started my lessons again, I would definitely have a dashcam as rudimentary BBR and some kind of GPS tracker app on my phone. It is the responsible thing to do and you should get some cool videos to enjoy (up to the point of any accident).

At the end of the day, may the number of take-offs never be greater than the number of safe landings; and you get to enjoy all the footage of your flights.

1
0

Drones have had a serious impact at airports

The development and popularization of unmanned aerial vehicle (uav) technology, which makes a lot of people have the unmanned aerial vehicle (uav), don't obey the rules of the unmanned aerial vehicle (uav) flight, will bring great losses, so the drones jammer can be used in areas such as the airport.

0
0

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Forums

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2018