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MAS pioneers space-based tracking of planes

April 20, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Malaysia Airlines, which infamously lost track of one of its aircraft – flight MH370 – in 2014, is likely next year to know more about the whereabouts of its planes than any other airline operating.

The Malaysian carrier has become the first airline to sign an agreement for space-based flight tracking of its aircraft. MH370 disappeared on 8 March 2014 while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew aboard. Despite endless theories, the plane and its passengers were never seen again, though wreckage – some of it verified as being from the doomed B777 – has been washed up.

Next year, Malaysia Airlines will begin using a revolutionary flight tracking system developed by a partnership involving SITAonair, Aireon and FlightAware. It will be the first airline to adopt the new system.

Tracking system

Under the agreement, all Malaysia Airlines aircraft will have access to minute-by-minute flight-tracking data from around the world, delivered by SITAonair’s Aircom FlightTracker.

A joint announcement by SITAonair, Aireon and FlightAware said that by using data from the three systems, Malaysia Airlines’ aircraft operations centre would receive real-time position updates of its airborne fleet globally.

“Aireon’s space-based ADS-B data will also resolve any existing data feed coverage gaps that remain, particularly over oceanic and remote airspace, where there is currently no surveillance,” the statement said.

No new avionics or modifications are needed for aircraft to take advantage of this service.

“Real-time global aircraft tracking has long been a goal of the aviation community,” said Captain Izham Ismail, chief operating officer, Malaysia Airlines.

“We are proud to be the first airline to adopt this solution using space-based ADS-B data as part of SITAonair’s Aircom FlightTracker.”

Paul Gibson, portfolio director, Aircom, at SITAonair, said the development would place Malaysia Airlines at the cutting-edge of real-time flight-tracking technology.

“With access to up-to-the-minute reporting, Malaysia Airlines will know the location, heading, speed and altitude of all aircraft in its fleet, at all times, and be alerted to any exceptions,” Gibson said.

In November 2016, Aireon, FlightAware and SITAonair announced a new partnership to deliver Aireon data via FlightAware to SITAonair customers.

FlightAware provides a combination of global air traffic control data, aircraft datalink information and terrestrial ADS-B data through a secure streaming data feed. Once the Aireon system is operational, expected in 2018, airlines already using SITAonair’s Aircom FlightTracker will automatically begin seeing the new Aireon data appear in their systems, without the need for costly modifications.

“In addition to not requiring any new avionics or modifications to their aircraft, Malaysia Airlines will seamlessly gain real-time flight tracking ability of its fleet, even in areas where regional air navigation service providers do not have full surveillance,” FlightAware chief executive, Daniel Baker said.

“The result will be that Malaysia Airlines will have greater visibility of its aircraft’s exact location.”

Aireon chief executive Don Thoma said Malaysia Airlines “has taken a lead role in the industry since the tragic events of 2014. Real-time, global flight tracking, anywhere on the planet will further its safety goals, by allowing Malaysia Airlines to track its aircraft anytime, anywhere.”

The Aireon service will be operational in 2018, once 66 satellites are in orbit. On 14 January 2017, 10 Iridium NEXT satellites carrying the Aireon ADS-B hosted payload were successfully launched from Vandenberg air force base in California on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Fifty-six other low-earth-orbit satellites will join them, providing global coverage. The partners expect the development to help airlines reduce fuel costs, increase safety and enable more efficient flight paths.

SITAonair is a subsidiary of the SITA Group, airline-owned and airline focused.

Aireon is deploying a global, space-based air traffic surveillance system aircraft. FlightAware is the world’s largest flight tracking data company.

Edited by Peter Needham

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