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Malaysian Airlines Is First To Use New Satellite Flight Tracking System

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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New satellite flight tracking system will enable global coverage when it goes live in 2018 – four years after the disappearance of MH370

Malaysian Airlines will be the first carrier to use a new real-time satellite tracking system that will be able to provide minute-by-minute updates on an aircraft’s location, anywhere on the planet.

The airline already has a flight tracking system called AIRCOM FlightTracker but this will be complemented by Aireon’s space-based Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B)  data which will fill in gaps in coverage across oceans and remote landmasses.

ADS-B is powered by Iridium NEXT satellites which launched in January and the system will be operational in 2018 – four years after Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 went missing.

aeroplane takeoff

Satellite flight tracking

The fate of MH370 is still unknown, and its disappearance led to a debate about the need for better flight tracking should such an event occur in the future.

In 2015 the UN-affiliated International Telecommunications Union (ITU) allocated 1087.7- 1092.3 MHz spectrum so aircraft could transmit signals to ADS-B. At present, the frequencies are used to transmit signals to terrestrial stations within line-of-sight, but the ability to reach satellites means reporting of aircraft can be achieved in remote areas such as oceans and polar environments.

Aireon says ADS-B will not only improve safety and surveillance but also allow for optimised flightpaths which will reduce fuel consumption and save money. Crucially, no new avionic equipment is needed.

“Real-time global aircraft tracking has long been a goal of the aviation community,” said Captain Izham Ismail, Chief Operating Officer of Malaysia Airlines. “We are proud to be the first airline to adopt this solution using space-based ADS-B data as part of [the Aircom FlightTracker].”

“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,” added Paul Gibson, AIRCOM portfolio director at SIATONAIR.

Airlines are also using new satellites to upgrade their in-flight Wi-Fi services which have traditionally suffered from slow speeds and high latency. New systems should rectify these problems and promise a ‘home broadband’ like experience in the air.

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