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Malaysia Airlines Says It Will Use Satellites To Track Its Fleet


Malaysia Airlines says the new system, which is expected to be operational in 2018, will use 66 low-earth-orbit satellites.

Malaysia Airlines says the new system, which is expected to be operational in 2018, will use 66 low-earth-orbit satellites.

AP, Vincent Thian

Three years after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared from radar with 239 people on board, Malaysia’s national carrier says it will begin using satellites to track its planes at all times. The airline says it will be the first to do so.

In general, planes are tracked using radar and a ground-based system called ADS-B, with gaps in coverage over some ocean areas and other remote places.

Malaysia Airlines says the new system, which is expected to be operational in 2018, will use 66 low-earth-orbit satellites that can fill in those gaps. It will not require any modifications to the fleet.

The airline made the announcement Tuesday, in partnership with air transport connectivity firm SITAONAIR, air traffic surveillance firm Aireon and the flight tracking data company FlightAware.

The airline will receive transmit minute-by-minute tracking information about flight position, even in oceanic or remote areas where there is now no surveillance.

“With access to up-to-the-minute reporting, Malaysia Airlines will know the location, heading, speed and altitude of all aircraft in its fleet, at all times, and be alerted to any exception,” SITAONAIR’s Paul Gibson said in a statement.

As The Two-Way has reported, “Flight 370 vanished from radar on March 8, 2014, during a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board. Fragmentary evidence from military radars and ‘pings’ from the plane’s own satellite communications system suggested that the Boeing 777 executed a series of turns that eventually led it to the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean. Authorities believe it crashed somewhere along a long arc of ocean, after exhausting its fuel supplies.”

The search for Flight 370 was called off in January, after search crews covered more than 45,000 square miles of ocean.

Just weeks before, a new report indicated the wreckage was likely outside the search area. However, as NPR’s Geoff Brumfiel reported, “the governments organizing and funding the search decided that information wasn’t specific enough to justify expanding the search zone.”

The flight’s disappearance prompted the National Transportation Safety Board to recommend that “planes be equipped with tamper-resistant devices that transmit a plane’s location every minute via satellite,” NPR’s David Schaper reported in 2015. He added that cost was seen as a major hurdle to implementing this kind of tracking.

The BBC says it’s “unclear if the additional tracking ability would have had any impact on the MH370 disappearance.” Here’s more:

“All tracking systems monitor a plane’s location using its on-board transmitter. When the Kuala Lumpur-Beijing flight vanished in March 2014, the transmitter signal was lost, with some suspicions it was done deliberately.”

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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