This month marks three years since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared on March 8, while flying from Malaysia to China.
Since then, many questions were asked and one of them is why can’t anyone trace the exact route of an aircraft in the air?
With all the tracking technology at our disposal in the modern age, it seems incredible that planes can still disappear.
GPS tracking has been around for ages, guiding your average car owner to his or her destination with the help of a soothing computerized voice.
Yet airplane tracking and information gathering hasn’t evolved substantially in the past few decades, still heavily relying on ground-based radar and on-board black boxes that hold critical flight data.
These technologies can fall short, as evidenced by Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which went missing—black box and all—while flying out of radar range.
When you’re flying on a plane and the screen in front of you shows your position over an ocean or the poles, it’s likely that you, the passenger, know more about your plane’s location than Air Traffic Control does.
But that is starting to change, said Popular Science.
“In this day and age, lost aircraft should be a thing of the past.”
“For the first time, we’re getting aviation traffic from all over the world, including the oceans,” Daniel Colussey, the former CEO of satellite communications company Iridium, said at a conference last weekend. “It’s the first time a plane has ever been surveilled over the poles.”
In January, Iridium launched the first ten of 66 satellites that will, for the first time, be able to continuously track airplanes’ position, speed, and altitude across the entire globe.
Although the network won’t be operational until the end of 2018 at the earliest, two of the satellites have already been switched on, and they started to send back data a few weeks ago.
“When we activated, we started collecting targets of opportunity. These are just any aircraft flying,” says Vinny Capezzuto, CTO of Aireon, which is the company that makes the satellite-based tracking tech.
Over 62 hours, one satellite collected the unique codes and positional data of 17,000 aircraft, including those over oceans and in remote locations where radar can’t reach.
Maybe this will make flying in jumbo jets easier, and families might be less troubled over what may happen to their loved ones, as this technology might simply make it difficult for another MH370 scenario to happen.