Satellite aircraft tracking

Satellite aircraft tracking to be pioneered by Malaysia Airlines

By any measure, Malaysia Airlines has had a pretty bad few years. First, it lost a plane in mysterious circumstances, and then shortly thereafter, another one of its Boeing 777s was destroyed by a surface to air missile. Add to the mix financial woes, and in some ways, you might be surprised the airline is still functioning as an entity. At least bad news about the company has gone away. But Malaysia Airlines is about to pioneer satellite aircraft tracking, as a remedy for any possibility of another plane being lost. Will other airlines follow suit?

 

Satellite aircraft tracking

An Iridium communications satellite on display. This and its brethren will be used to track Malaysia Airlines flights in real time. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

After the loss of MH370, which still hasn’t been found, a lot of people were wondering how a major national airline could lose a large aircraft such as a Boeing 777 with hundreds of people on board. It turns out that tracking aircraft is an imprecise business, and it relied on both the aircraft and the ground based systems to talk to each other. You can’t do much when the aircraft turns off its transponder, can you? Well, Malaysia Airlines has signed up to a new service that will allow satellite aircraft tracking of its fleet in real time.

 

The new service is operated by three companies, Aireon, SITAONAIR and FlightAware. Using the 72 communications satellites operated by Iridium, flights will be tracked using an international standard known as Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B). This standard is normally used to share tracking data to ground stations, but with satellites now picking up the signal, information should be far more useful, and in real time too. In a press statement, Malaysia Airlines’ Chief Operating Officer, Captain Izham Ismail said that: “Real-time global aircraft tracking has long been a goal of the aviation community. We are proud to be the first airline to adopt this solution using space-based ADS-B data.”

 

Satellite aircraft tracking

You wouldn’t know it, but there are thousands of planes in the air at any time. And this is just Europe! Image credit: Cayman Airways

 

Satellite aircraft tracking should bring additional peace of mind to travellers, who might fear a repeat of MH370. However, it’s not known whether aircraft transponders are absolutely required to use ADS-B, and in the case of MH370, the transponder was turned off before the aircraft changed course midflight. In cases like that, it may not have been visible to satellites anyway. While the mystery and search for MH370 continues, we certainly hope the additional measures made by the airline industry for safety will prevent another incident like it.

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