GPS Tracking Is A New Step in Aviation: Will It Help Planning to Avoid Plane Disappearance?

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Plane disappearance is an extremely unfortunate and shocking situation. Air transport is the fastest and a convenient option, but air transport disasters can be dreadful. When a plane disappears or goes missing, people from different countries worldwide lose their loved ones. The situation is quite dreadful and scary!

There can be several reasons behind the disappearance of a plane:

  • Due to bad weather.
  • Mechanical failure of the plane.
  • The error of the pilot.
  • Other forms of human error like the air traffic controllers, fuelers, dispatchers, maintenance engineers or loaders.
  • Sabotaging or hijacking.

From all these reasons, sabotage, weather and mechanical failure are the most common ones. There have been many cases of plane disappearance in history, and the latest addition to this unfortunate list is the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.

The Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 incident

Flight MH370 started from Kuala Lumpur to its destination Beijing, with 239 people on board, on March 8, 2014. The pilot and co-pilot of the plane were respectively Zaharie Amad Shah and Fariq Abdul Hamid. Just 38 minutes after the take-off, the plane lost contact with Malaysian Airlines.

Even after investigating with all their might, Flight MH370 could not be found or saved. The parts of the plane have recently discovered in the Indian Ocean at Madagascar. The actual cause behind this tragedy is still unknown. However, there are theories and debates among investigators about the cause.

This incident has brought the disturbing fact into light that even a modern aircraft with enough communicative equipment can disappear without a trace. This proves that the plane tracking system at present is not well designed.

Aircrafts are monitored by using two radar systems – primary and secondary.

  • Primary radar: Developed in the 1930s, it is based on the earliest form of radar. The approximate position of an aircraft is detected and measured by reflected radio signals.
  • Secondary radar: This system depends on the aircraft being equipped with a transponder and requests the aircraft for additional information like its identity and altitude.

These systems are clearly not enough to track a plane, so, GPS tracking is now being considered to take their place to avoid plane disappearance.

GPS or the Global Positioning System was initially developed by the US government for required navigation in the military, but now it is used in the whole world for numerous applications. It is a network of about 30 satellites that orbit the Earth at a 20000 km altitude. Using this system, the exact location of anyone or anything can be determined accurately and flawlessly.

GPS can be used to track planes, but air traffic control is radar-based almost entirely. Even if GPS display the plane’s position to the pilots, this data is not shared with air traffic control. Some modern aircraft are equipped with the technology to uplink GPS data to satellite tracking services in recent years. However, linking large volumes of flight data is expensive, so it is only used in remote areas where there is no radar coverage.

To solve this problem, a technology company in Virginia has introduced a new GPS tracking system for planes, so that tragedies like flight MH370 do not repeat again.

Space-Based ADS-B

Aireon, the Virginia-based global satellite tracking company announced a fully operational GPS flight tracking system named ‘Space-Based ADS-B’, with the claim that this system can increase coverage from 30 percent to 100 percent. According to the plans of Aireon, this GPS system will use satellites instead of ground-radar sites that will allow it to deliver real-time flight data from anywhere to anywhere. There are no special technical requirements to use this system, it is compatible with the current planes, so it is not costly either. This GPS system is already live in Canada and the UK for managing air traffic across the North Atlantic. Whether it will be live in the US anytime soon on not, will be determined after the Federal Aviation Administration performs an evaluation test of this system in Caribbean airspace later this year.

How does it work?

This air traffic surveillance technology depends on aircraft to broadcast their identity. An accurate GPS position and other information are derived from onboard systems. Every half a second, this data is broadcasted from the aircraft. The Air Traffic Controllers can use this data to identify and separate aircraft live.

How effective is Space-Based ADS-B?

The GPS system introduced by Aireon definitely looks promising as the new step of avoiding plane disappearance. With the previous surveillance system over planes, 70 percent of the world did not have any access to ATS surveillance information. This includes places like the polar regions, mountainous regions, oceans, forests and deserts. The new Space-Based ADS-B improves Air Traffic Management by enhancing efficiency, capacity, safety and predictability, and also reduces overall infrastructure costs.

Aireon has invented a revolutionary technology for preventing plane disappearances. With Space-Based ASD-B around, there is hope that no plane will meet the same fate as Flight MH370.