April 7, 2014 (Scottsdale, AZ)
Malaysia Flight 370 seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth and after three weeks of searching, experts are still at a loss as to what really happened to the ill-fated flight. Experts believe the Boeing 777 went down in the ocean. One of the main problems with the search is that the airliner went down in one of the most remote areas of the world, the southern Indian Ocean. This is a vast area of unpredictable weather, and swirling currents far from land, making the search efforts difficult. Flight 370 was equipped with a transponder, as most planes are. The transponder is the primary way that the plane is seen on air traffic control radar. However, the transponder remains a mystery on Flight 370. According to experts, it was either deliberately turned off or suffered a failure that made it stop working. At that time, the planes exact position was unknown to air traffic control. Planes are only seen by radar when they are within 200 miles of a radar tower. Even with a perfectly operational transponder, once aircraft are out over the open ocean, they can no longer be seen on radar by air traffic control. In fact, about only 10% of the earth’s surface has radar or radio communication coverage for aircraft. This has been a long standing problem for airlines and air traffic controllers.
New Technology Is Coming
Aireon is a company that plans to revolutionize how air traffic monitoring will be done in the future. According to Aireon CEO, Don Thoma, Aireon has partnered with Iridium, a satellite communications company, and Nav Canada, a privatized provider of air traffic control service for Canada and three other countries. Don Thoma says, “Airplanes flying over the oceans are not being tracked.” Thoma explains,“The only way to provide either communication, or tracking services, is through satellite.” According to Thoma, Aireon will “provide real-time tracking” of all aircraft, no matter where they are in the world, using precise GPS satellite tracking. According to Thoma, instead of having a receiver on a land based tower, the information will be transmitted to one of iridium’s 66 satellites, which will be deployed above the earth. Those satellites will receive the information and relay it back to the air traffic controllers giving them real-time surveillance. Having this type of precise coverage will allow air traffic controllers to assign airliners more direct routes and optimize the flight. Thoma says “this could says the airliner industry $6 -$8 billion dollars in fuel for the world’s airlines.” “The impact for search and rescue is significant. When you have that real-time precise update it certainly could narrow the search area for an aircraft, such as the Malaysia 370 Flight.” Thoma says they’re working on deploying all 66 satellites and plan to have “a system in operation by 2018 that will provide an operational, 100% global aircraft tracking service.”
Many experts and families of Malaysia Flight 370 have been mystified how in the 21st century a large aircraft like the Boeing 777 can simply disappear. With this new satellite based precise global surveillance system in place, hopefully tragedies like this can be avoided in the future.