Vanishing jetliners should soon be a thing of the past

Two US companies have developed an airline tracking system designed to prevent planes disappearing in the manner of the Malaysia Airlines MH370, which vanished two years ago when contact was lost with it somewhere over the vast Indian Ocean region.

Instead of sending tracking signals to ground stations – which means planes’ locations can be lost over oceans or remote areas – the new system would beam them to satellites.

“It doesn’t matter if they’re flying over the ocean, desert, or North Pole, we’ll know where the plane is,” said Daniel Baker, the chief executive of FlightAware, the internet flight tracking service that is working with Aireon, which has developed the satellite technology.

Aireon’s system will place ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast) receivers on low-orbit satellites operated by Iridium Communications and is due to be operational from 2018. The system was initially conceived to help air traffic controllers route planes more efficiently.

The new tracking system, called GlobalBeacon, will make the location data from the space-based receivers available to airlines so they can track their planes in near real-time on a Web-based tool.

After the disappearance of MH370 in March 2014, regulators and airlines were criticised for responding too slowly to French tracking recommendations after the crash of an Air France plane in 2009.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) plans to impose a 15-minute standard for normal flight tracking, or more frequently in case of emergency, by November 2018.

FlightAware said it would reveal the first airline customer for the product next week, to coincide with an ICAO meeting in Montreal.

“We only reached out to a few of our dozens of airline customers to discuss this opportunity and although all are interested in using our space-based ADS-B data, only one could hit the tight timeline for our announcement,” Mr Baker said.

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