Malaysia Airlines to track entire fleet with satellites

The airline is first in the world to sign on to the new system

Malaysia Airlines to track entire fleet with satellites

[Wiki Commons]

When Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March 2014, all 239 people on board vanished without a trace. But now, just over three years later, the stricken airline has become the first in the world to track its fleet via satellite.

Malaysia Airlines bosses have signed a deal with aerospace companies Aireon, Sitaonair, and FlightAware that enables a command centre to pinpoint the location of all of its 75-jet fleet in real time, anywhere in the world.

It is expected that Aireon’s satellite system will be fully functional by 2018.

“Real-time global aircraft tracking has long been a goal of the aviation community,” Malaysia Airlines Chief Operating Officer Izham Ismail said in a statement.

“We are proud to be the first airline to adopt this solution.”

Keeping an eye on long-haul flights

Most flight paths in the skies are monitored by radar, with transponders built into a jet’s electronic systems automatically transmitting the plan’s position and ID number – in the form of a four-digit code – to air traffic controllers.

Sympathies expressed on the wall of Kuala Lumpur International Airport to the victims of MH370 in April, 2014 [Bernama Images/ABACA/PA Images]

But when an aircraft passes beyond 240km above the open seas, cockpits switch from the transponders to high-frequency radio equipment to keep in contact with air traffic control stations.

MH370 was operating with all of this equipment but still vanished without a trace, with the loss of everyone on board. A massive search operation failed to turn up any clues, though some debris believed to be from the jet has washed up on beaches in Réunion, Mozambique, and Madagascar.

Overcoming tragedies

A number of theories have surrounded the mystery of the flight’s disappearance, ranging from passenger foul play (two people boarded with stolen passports) to combustible batteries in the cargo hold, and crew involvement.

In January, the search for the jet or any of those on board was officially called off.

A second tragedy involving a Malaysia Airlines jet shot down over Ukraine five months after MH370 vanished has seen the carrier struggle to shake off customer doubts and concerns. Renationalised and restructured, airline bosses have slashed prices in order to fill seats, offer travel discounts and promotions to win back customers.

But it is unclear whether the new satellite deal would have been able to track MH370, as the jet’s location transmitter had stopped communicating with ground stations. Without access to the jet’s black box flight-data recorder, it’s unknown whether the transmitter ceased to function or was intentionally switched off.

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