We probably all remember the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines 370 that occurred in 2014. Flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, the plane disappeared from radar over the South China Sea and to this day, it is still unclear what happened.
And all because, until recently, only 30% of the planet’s surface was within range of ground radar and aircraft position signal receivers. What about the other 70%? These are, unfortunately, desert areas, mountains, jungles and oceans, where tracking planes was impossible… well, it was, because now the Aireon satellite system allows tracking 100% of our planet’s surface from orbit.
Now we can forget about such situations, provided, of course, that the planes are equipped with ADS-B, because this is the standard on which the new satellite system is based. This shouldn’t be a problem, however, as there are currently about 10,000 carriers worldwide using this type of transmitter, so the new method of monitoring flights requires virtually no additional action from them and can be used literally out of the box.
Planes equipped with ADS-B constantly determine their location using GPS and then send it by radio signal, along with the flight number, its destination, type of aircraft, speed and altitude. In short, air traffic control and aircraft owners get all the information they need in real time, and that’s regardless of whether the aircraft is over terrain that remains within the range of ground-based radar or previously inaccessible for tracking, like desert and mountains.
You may be wondering, why only now? Well, it turns out that the new system required the replacement of the Iridium satellite network satellites, because the old ones were no longer sufficient, and the replacement process had to take some time. Less than two weeks ago, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifted into orbit the last 10 Iridium NEXT telecommunications satellites, which were equipped, by the way, with Aireon ADS-B signal receivers.
In short, the system is now operational and available for interested parties, and among the first customers are carriers such as Qatar Airways and Malaysia Airlines, the owner of the ill-fated Flight 370, which apparently has no intention of letting those unpleasant events happen again. And according to Aireon CEO Don Thoma: The benefits to customers will be subtle. It’s good to know about secure tracking, but hopefully we’ll never have to use it. There are many other subtle improvements as well; planes will be able to take off faster because air traffic control can see them. You will be able to shorten routes but allow faster planes to pass those slower ones, saving fuel. It all adds up to a major improvement in the air system.