The technology for constant worldwide aircraft tracking has long been available, however, the standards and regulations enforcing its use have not kept pace with the development, Chief Operations Officer of Inmarsat said to the E&T in an interview.
According to Ruy Pinto, Inmarsat's COO, there is no need to wait for further development to implement a system that would have prevented, not the Flight MH370 disaster, but at least the complete loss of control by air-traffic controllers about the plane’s whereabouts.
“Most of the technology has been available since the Air France tragedy in 2009,” Pinto said to the E&T two days after the company had announced its plans to offer free tracking services via its satellites to all aircraft worldwide already carrying its systems.
“What we are trying to do now is to remove what some may consider a commercial barrier to speed up the uptake of satellite-based positioning services in the aviation community. By eliminating a commercial barrier, we are shortening the time required to update the procedures and helping the aviation community to adopt satellite tracking services.”
The free tracking service will be available on Inmarsat’s Classic Aero and Swift Broadband systems. Whereas Swift Broadband already offers tracking capabilities, Classic Aero users will need to have a software upgrade, which Inmarsat has offered to fully fund.
“In terms of hardware there is no further investment needed on the side of the airlines,” Pinto said. “Where there may be a need for some upgrade is Inmarsat and its distributors who would have to upgrade some of their ground systems to be able to provide the data seamlessly to the airlines. But that’s on the ground, not in the airplanes.”
The company is now working with the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a UN body responsible for developing standards for commercial aviation, and the International Air Transport Association, representing the industry, to define the service's parametres.
The company is further exploring possibilities to use its existing systems for black box data streaming in critical situations, to allow investigators to have this vital information at hand without having to search for the black box, which, as in the case of Flight AF447 and MH370, could be almost inaccessible at the bottom of the sea.
“The technology to provide a subset of black box data in real time from an airplane is there, but it’s not mandated and the subset of data is not defined,” said Pinto.
“We are now working with the regulatory bodies such as ICAO and IATA, as well as with the airlines, trying to define that service and how it could be implemented in Classic Aero and Swift Broadband,” he said, stressing that such a system would have to address privacy concerns.
Inmarsat, managing a fleet of five geostationary satellites, with further free expected to launch in the next months, provides global coverage – the major advantage of satellite tracking systems over currently dominating radar.
Ever since the beginning of the Flight MH370 saga, Inmarsat has played an important role in the search operations.