Photo: Rockwell Collins press release
Two systems designed to prevent incidents similar to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370 are undergoing trials, with one due to be rolled out imminently. A Flight Tracking seminar at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London heard from several organizations working to ensure that civil aircraft could be tracked more precisely.
The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 vanished over the southern Indian Ocean in March 2014 after departing from its planned flight plan between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing. All 239 passengers and crew are presumed dead.
A multi-national search effort, which has swept a 100,000 sq km arc of the Indian Ocean, has so far not turned up any sign of the aircraft. To date, only two pieces of the aircraft have washed ashore: A flaperon found on Reunion Island in July 2015 that was later confirmed by French officials to be part of the missing 777, and in March 2016 a piece of aircraft debris found off the coast of Mozambique “almost certainly” came from MH370, the Australian minister for infrastructure and transport Darren Chester concluded.
The incident has sparked a major debate as to how a modern airliner could simply disappear and how any such occurrence could be prevented in future.
Retrospectively, MH370’s progress down through the Indian Ocean could be tracked by the routine electronic ‘handshakes’ conducted hourly between the aircraft and Inmarsat satellites. These indicated a corridor down which the aircraft traveled, but were not sufficiently accurate to pinpoint the aircraft’s crash site.
Speaking at the seminar, mobile satellite communications specialist Inmarsat manager-aeronautical product engineering Alan Schuster-Bruce said a trial of an embedded tracking capability in the standard ADS-C navigation system was running on 70 aircraft equipped with Inmarsat’s new-generation Swift Broadband system.
ADS-C delivers data via communications satellite to ground stations. The electronic “handshakes” between an aircraft and satellite have already been stepped up to every 15 minutes, rather than hourly, since MH370’s disappearance.
The trial is to check whether the tracking facility works effectively and then delivering that data to the participating airlines. He declined to say which carriers are involved in the trial.
Rockwell Collins, meanwhile, is “on the cusp of rolling out” its new Multilink system, which combines multiple data sources such as ADS-B, ADS-C, Eurocontrol position information and High Frequency Data Link to build up a much more complete picture of an aircraft’s position.
“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,” said business development director, aviation services, Europe Middle East and Africa region Gary Anderson.
All available positional data is streamed to the relevant airline and alerts can be built in if the aircraft fails to respond at a regular reporting time, or if a deviation from its registered flight plan is noted.
“We’ve had some trial customers and during the past year we’ve been developing the capability,” Anderson said. “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.”