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MH370 search costs $90m and satellite firm offers free tracking

May 15, 2014 Aviation, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59British satellite operator Inmarsat is offering a free, basic tracking service to all the world’s passenger airliners. 

Inmarsat already relays distress calls from ships free of charge over its worldwide network. Its offer springs from the strange and disturbing case of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which vanished without trace on 8 March 2014.

The cost of trying to find MH370 was finally revealed on Tuesday in Australia’s Federal Budget, which allocated AUD 90 million to the effort over two years (from the current financial year). While the search is essential and worthwhile, money is not unlimited. Web-banner-300-250

The mystery of the plane’s disappearance, deeply worrying for the airline industry and for airline passengers, may never be solved, as the aircraft is unlikely ever to be seen again. The anguish for relatives and loved ones can only be imagined.

Inmarsat’s offer follows high-level efforts by the United Nations this week to improve the way aircraft are tracked.

But plane makers, airlines and pilots are already bickering over costs, procedures and surveillance. Papers issued as European agency EASA toughened guidelines for black-box flight recorders last week suggest disputes about the economic and safety benefits. Manufacturers don’t want to move too fast and pilots are reluctant to have their every move monitored.

Inmarsat says the free service it is offering would carry definitive aircraft positional information, the BBC has reported. It was brief electronic ‘pings’ from Inmarsat equipment that led investigators to search for wreckage in the remote southern Indian Ocean.

Inmarsat’s free service would see aircraft automatically determine their location using GPS and then transmit that data, together with heading, speed and altitude, over Inmarsat’s global satellite network. Data would be transmitted every 15 minutes, giving any future searchers a lot more information than was available when the Malaysia Airlines B777 inexplicably turned south on a flight to oblivion.

“Our equipment is on 90% of the world’s wide-body jets already,” Inmarsat senior vice-president Chris McLaughlin told BBC News. “This is an immediate fix for the industry at no cost to the industry.”

It is very hard to argue with that. Because it doesn’t include intrusive surveillance, pilots should have no problem with it – and plane makers and airlines can hardly resist a safety measure that’s cheap of even free.

Written by : Peter Needham

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