Cuba frees 53 prisoners as agreed in US deal
PARIS — The Airbus A350 and A380 passenger jets will soon come equipped with ejectable black boxes that can float, making them easier to find in an air crash at sea, aviation sources said on Monday.
“At the end of last year Airbus got the green light from EASA (European Air Security Agency) to work on the necessary modifications to its planes in order to install these new black boxes in the rear of the planes,” one of the sources told AFP.
An EASA spokesperson confirmed that the agency was working on changing the necessary certification to allow Airbus to equip its planes with the new flight data and cockpit voice recorders.
“The change is generally quick,” the spokesperson added.
The technology, which has already been approved for military aircraft, has not been used in civil aviation because up until a few years ago air accidents have mainly happened during take-off or landing. Black boxes are generally found easily on land.
But in recent years passenger jets have crashed into the ocean raising the need for new technology to help find the black boxes. These recorders are critical in air crash investigations as they provide information on how the planes were operating and the conversations of the pilots.
In 2009 an Air France jet travelling from Rio to Paris went down in the Atlantic and the search for the black boxes at the bottom of the ocean took nearly two years.
In March last year, a Malaysia Airlines disappeared over the Indian Ocean and its black boxes have still not be found.
Then last month an Airasia plane crashed into the Java Sea and so far divers have found the flight data recorder but not yet the cockpit recorder.
“The idea is to modify the black boxes so that each one records the flight details and [cockpit] conversations. One would be ejectable, the other not,” a source close to Airbus explained to AFP.
An ejectable black box would be equipped with an airbag system so it could float on the surface of the water in the event of a crash at sea.
It would also help to indicate the exact point of impact at the time of the crash and to find the wreckage.
The Toulouse-based aircraft maker plans to install the ejectable black boxes first on its A350 and A380 jets since they are used in transatlantic flights. — AFP HAVANA — Cuba has completed the release of all 53 prisoners it had promised to free, the Obama administration said on Monday, a major step toward détente with Washington.
The release of the remaining detainees overcomes a big hurdle for historic talks next week aimed at normalising ties after decades of hostility.
The list of 53 is part of last month’s breakthrough Us-cuba agreement and includes many known to international human rights groups as “prisoners of conscience.”
The United States welcomed Cuba’s action as a milestone, but senior US officials said Washington would keep pressing Havana to free more people they consider political prisoners.
Lifting the secrecy around the freed dissidents, the Obama administration provided the full list to congressional leaders.
According to a copy obtained by Reuters, they include members of prominent Cuba protest groups including the Ladies in White.
There had been questions whether Havana would release all those it had pledged to free as part of the deal that Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced on 17 December to restore diplomatic ties, which Washington severed more than 50 years ago.
The mystery that surrounded the 53 had played to Mr Obama’s critics who say he has not pressured Havana enough on human rights in return for normalising ties.
The United States exchanged three convicted Cuban spies for an agent who had spied for the Americans. Washington also received Alan Gross, a US aid worker jailed in Cuba.
Cuba informed the Obama administration over the weekend that the last of those on the list had been released.
But one of the officials said: “We’re going to be wanting to raise the cases of different individuals who may be detained in Cuba for exercising their universal rights.”
Cuba denies that it holds political prisoners.
Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the peaceful opposition group Patriotic Union of Cuba, thanked the United States for helping to secure freedom for some of its members but said “we regret there are some political prisoners — about 10 — who remain in prison.”
Among those on the release list were people designated by Amnesty International as “prisoners of conscience” such as brothers Bianco Vargas Martín and Diango Vargas Martín, members of the Patriotic Union arrested in 2012 and sentenced on public disorder charges to four years in prison.
Also listed were Haydee Gallardo, a member of Ladies in White, and her husband, Angel Figueredo, who were arrested last year.
The US officials said as many as eight people on the list had been released even before the December announcement, some because they were already scheduled to get out. But a Cuban dissident leader said 17 of the 53 had been freed by that time.
Republican US Senator Marco Rubio, a leading critic of Mr Obama’s policy, told CBS the release was great news for the prisoners but that Cuba was getting much of what it wanted from the administration in return for “these minimal changes.”
Speaking in detail on the prisoner release for the first time since last month’s dramatic shift in Cuba policy, the US officials said the idea grew out of secret talks on how to release Mr Gross and how to structure the spy swap.
As both sides began seeing prospects for a broader rapprochement, US negotiators sought proof of Cuba’s readiness to improve its human rights record and last spring presented a list of prisoners they wanted released, the officials said.
Indonesian military personnel remove the Flight Data Recorder of the ill-fated Airasia flight QZ8501 into a proper case in Pangkalan Bun, Indonesia on Monday.