Irish Aviation Authority backs new plane tracking system

Aireon-developed system able to pinpoint craft’s locations in remote areas of oceans

Crew on an Australian defence vessel search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight: the new Alert system can pinpoint the location of craft even in remote areas. Photograph: Reuters

Crew on an Australian defence vessel search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight: the new Alert system can pinpoint the location of craft even in remote areas. Photograph: Reuters

 

The Republic’s aviation regulator will operate a new global aircraft-tracking system designed to solve disappearances such as the Malaysian Airlines disaster two years ago.

The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) is a shareholder in Aireon, a multinational partnership developing a new satellite-based air traffic control system that can pinpoint the location of craft even in remote areas with no infrastructure, such as the north Atlantic.

Tests by the IAA and Aireon confirm the equipment that the Irish regulator will use to collect surveillance data is operating to the highest standards.

The company, in which the authority is a 6 per cent shareholder, hailed the success as a significant breakthrough in the development of the system, which is due to go live in 2018.

As part of the project, the IAA’s communications centre in Ballygirreen, Co Clare will operate Aireon’s emergency tracking system, dubbed Alert, which will provide precise details on a craft’s last known location if it goes missing.

Alert will be able relay this information to search-and-rescue agencies, air traffic control authorities and civil aviation bodies to aid them in tracking down craft in such situations.

IAA director Peter Kearney said the recent successful tests meant it was close to providing the service to the aviation industry. “Our engineering team is rapidly working to ensure that Aireon Alert will be fully operational in when it’s time to go live in 2018,” he said.

Black boxes

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In 2009 an Air France flight en route from Brazil to Paris crashed, but the investigation was hampered as it took the French authorities two years to find its black boxes as they had to comb a vast ocean area. Alert should eliminate the need for such extensive searches.

According to IAA chief executive Eamonn Brennan, Alert will be free to airlines, but the authority will charge for other aspects of the Aireon service.

Aireon will use satellites to track the precise locations of aircraft as they travel through remote regions such as central Africa or across oceans. The system will revolutionise air navigation and its use goes beyond emergency tracking.

Currently crew piloting craft in these areas give their position by radio to air navigation authorities, but there is no “visual” or radar contact confirming this information or giving precise locations.

While the system is reliable, it is inflexible as it requires craft to remain on a fixed path at 38,000 feet. Among other improvements, Aireon will enable craft to shift course to take advantage of such things as tail winds which speed up journeys and save fuel.

Aireon’s other backers are the Canadian, Danish and Italian air traffic control authorities and satellite company Iridium Communications.

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