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Satellite tracking for airliners may help prevent disappearances

FlightAware teamed up with Aireon on a tracking system that's slated to go live in 2018.
Billy Steele
September 22, 2016
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Artyom Korotayev\TASS via Getty Images

The fact that a passenger airliner can disappear without a trace is still pretty difficult to comprehend. Two companies are looking to bring a new satellite tracking solution to market that they say will prevent mysterious disappearances like that of Malaysia Airlines MH370 in 2014. Rather than beaming location info to stations on the ground, those details are sent to satellites with the Aireon GlobalBeacon system. The technology is being developed alongside flight tracking service FlightAware and the duo is targeting 2018 for the system to be operational.

GlobalBeacon will employ ADS-B low-orbit satellites from Iridium Communications to track flights. The system will provide airlines with near real-time details on planes through a web-based tool. Aireon's new tech was originally meant to provide air traffic controllers a way to improve efficiency when routing flights, but FlightAware plans to debut a tracking product next week at the same time the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) meets in Montreal. The ICAO will require a 15-minute standard for location updates on normal flights by 2018 with more frequent pings in the case of an emergency.

This isn't the first time a company has suggested using satellite tracking for airliners. Inmarsat proposed free global tracking with its satellites for airlines back in 2014, a couple months after MH370 disappeared. Panasonic Avionics is also lending its equipment through AirMap, another web-based tracking tool that offers custom alerts for things like turbulence, sudden drops in altitude or a derivation from the flight path. It also allows an airline to establish contact with a plane via text or voice messages and can provide updates on a minute-by-minute basis.

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