New packages have been introduced by both Rockwell Collins and SITA, following high demand for cost-effective and reliable aircraft tracking and in readiness for the new global industry standards and rules – as much as the subject is still in debate to the extent of flight tracking capability.
Initial moves call for aircraft positioning data every 15 minutes, with a view to reviewing this figure and other requirements during potentially problematic situations or when flying over remote areas or vast oceanic expanses.
Tim Ryan, Director of Programs and Service Management for IMS at Rockwell Collins said, “What we have seen since the disappearance of Air France Flight 447 in 2009 is that there is always a desire to find a single ‘silver bullet’ solution. If we’ve learned anything over those years, we’ve learned that a single solution, while it can be fashioned, doesn’t meet the equally important facet of cost-effectiveness.”
Both companies can provide high-frequency surveillance data from equipped aircraft using Automatic Dependent Surveillance Contract (ADS-C), a part of FANS or ACARS using the Rockwell Collins’ ground-based high-frequency data link (HFDL) network, Inmarsat and Iridium satellite communications networks.
Rockwell Collins are currently working with five non-U.S. airlines on a new tracking services to be a part of their GLOBALink suite – to be officially launched next month.
Following the tragic events of last year, and with a nudge from the UN civil aviation department for the industry as a whole to address the problem, Singapore Airlines is looking to enhance its aircraft tracking capabilities as a priority.
Aircraft and operational messaging systems need to provide seamlessly reliable messaging on a global scale and operate within a messaging architecture than is robust enough to handle real-time conversion, messaging switching and have tracing capability.
Although the capabilities exist, a handful of carriers are working together with communications providers to develop new systems that can recognise when an aircraft is experiencing difficulties or leaves its planned route, in addition to real-time tracking and monitoring.
Mr Nicholas Ionides, spokesman for Singapore Airlines gave confirmation of the carrier’s participation in ‘trials related to aircraft tracking’, but gave no further clue as to the extent of the trials.
ARINC Inc, acquired last year by Aeronautics giant, Rockwell Collins, developed and introduced ACARS messaging during the earliest years of commercial flight and insist that the technology is available today for real-time aircraft tracking. The debate continues in the wake of the tragic disappearance of Malaysian flight MH370, now into the fourth month with no news.
In-flight connectivity providers and satellite companies are currently competing for business with Inmarsat, the British satellite company that provided additional information about the ill-fated flight and Iridium both supporting flight deck communications and aircraft tracking solutions as they have done for years.
More than 300 airlines and 15,000 aircraft have relied upon the industry-standard ACARS and ARINC GLOBALink for mission critical transmissions. Rockwell Collins’ CEO, Kelly Ortberg said, “We may have to write some software, we may have to do some different things; upgrade the aircraft to implement this capability, but we don’t need to invest in new technology.”
With VHF datalink extending throughout Central and North America, most of Europe and Asia, Inmarsat’s satellite network providing coverage to expand VHF capability to encompass real-time data reporting and weather updates and Iridium’s network reaching the remote oceanic expanses and Polar Regions, it is clear that the technology is indeed available to bring global coverage within reach of the world’s airlines and operators.
Aviation messaging is under scrutiny at the moment, particularly by IATA and ICAO, who are working together to investigate the options for airlines in terms of global tracking to avoid another MH370 crisis at all costs.
Further discussion are encouraged once again by Tony Tyler, Director General of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to implement global flight tracking as three months pass since the disappearance of flight MH370. Many airlines simply do not want to wait for an industrywide solution to real-time tracking.
IATA plan to put aircraft tracking proposals to the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in September and believe standards could be in place within two to three years. Some airlines, however, do not want to wait and are looking into making arrangements much sooner than that. Qatar Airlines, for example, hosted a recent meeting of IATA in Doha last week and said that the ‘technology to track planes is available today’, and cited the possibility of adapting the ACARS system as an example.
The adaptation of ACARS, which delivers information in short bursts, is a real possibility for airlines to ensure tracking information is consistent without incurring extensive retrofit costs; using equipment that is already installed in the aircraft.
Qatar Airlines are amongst many that are expressing a serious interest in exploring the possibilities for the provision of real time flight tracking.
Canadian aerospace company, Flyht has launched a new portable SATCOM system, based on Iridium network technology that promises global communications at low prices for the aviation industry. At an initial cost of less than $10,000, the Dragon system will allow pilots and passengers to communicate for less, with no certification needed.
Using iPads, pilots and passengers will be able to use the Dragon iPad app to make telephone calls, send and receive emails and texts. The App will also be utilised by ground-based operations to deliver NOTAMs and weather updates to the cockpit, globally, via the Iridium satellite network.
As the world of aviation requests global flight tracking in the wake of flight MH370’s disappearance, the advent of the Dragon could not be better timed. With its ability to feed ASD systems, the Dragon is capable of flight following and has been tested by Chinese company, Aircraft Data Communication for input into its global aircraft management system.
Real-time flight tracking and delivery of automated OOOI messages is set to be high on many operators agenda’s this year. Other providers of technology based upon the Iridium network, particularly in the world of business aviation, are stepping up in the face of the competition.