Mystery still surrounds the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, believed to be somewhere over the southern Indian Ocean, with the presumed loss of all 239 passengers and crew on board in March 2014. The incident created considerable debate both over how an airplane could disappear without trace in this day and age, and also what could be done to prevent it happening again. While routine hourly electronic ‘handshakes’ between the aircraft and Inmarsat satellites gave an indication of the corridor down which the aircraft had traveled, they were too intermittent to accurately identify a potential crash location.
Both Immarsat and Rockwell Collins have each been developing their own systems to avoid a similar occurrence and speaking at a Flight Tracking seminar at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London, Alan Schuster-Bruce, Manager Aeronautical Product Engineering Mobile Satellite Communications specialist for Inmarsat, confirmed that a trial of an embedded tracking capability in the standard ADS-C navigation system was currently being utilized on 70 aircraft which are equipped with Inmarsat’s new-generation Swift Broadband system, though he would not disclose which carriers were involved.
The ADS-C system delivers data to ground stations via communications satellite, with electronic “handshakes” between an aircraft and satellite increased to every 15 minutes. The purpose of the trial is to establish if the tracking facility works effectively as well as being able to deliver data to the participating airlines.
Rockwell Collins, on the other hand, is “on the cusp of rolling out” its new Multilink system. This utilizes several data sources such as High Frequency Data Link, ADS-B, ADS-C and Eurocontrol position information and establishes a more accurate image of an aircraft’s location.
According to one of Rockwell Collins’ business directors, Gary Anderson, “We’ve taken the various feeds and built an engine that filters them for the particular aircraft involved, so the customer only sees its own particular aircraft.”
“We’ve had some trial customers and during the past year we’ve been developing the capability. We have a beta version now and we’re just on the cusp of rolling it out.
“This information is already there. We’re taking it, managing it, filtering it and providing a feed [to the airline]. That’s the beauty of it. It’s already there,” he added.
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