Satellite-based Aircraft Tracking System Will Prevent Another Flight MH370

The UK and Canada are the first countries to trial the technology.
Jessica Miley

An airplane tracking system has been launched that uses satellites to monitor airplanes while they fly anywhere around the globe. The flaws in the current radar system became apparent after the disappearance of flight MH370. The United Kingdom and Canada will be the first two nations to test the system. 


“For the first time in history, we can surveil all ADS-B-equipped aircraft anywhere on earth,” said Don Thoma, Aireon CEO

“Our air transportation system has operated with a safe but less than efficient system in the 70 percent of the world that does not have real-time surveillance. With the launch of our space-based ADS-B service, Aireon now provides a real-time solution to that challenge—one that will radically optimize flight safety and efficiency. The aviation industry has now joined the rest of the 21st century where real-time connectivity is relied upon for doing business.” 

Increased safety

Until the advent of this system, planes fitted with transponders broadcasted their position every 15 minutes via satellite via short single data transmission

The Aireon system will allow the position of the plane to be continuously known which will reduce overall flight safety risks by approximately 76 percent in the North Atlantic. 

As well as improve safety, Aireon says the system will allow air traffic controllers to fit more planes into the bustling Atlantic air corridors. Currently, planes fly at set speeds, routes, and heights to avoid collisions. 

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But greater accuracy of location will allow for more efficiency in the busy airspace. Transatlantic flights are expected to grow by more than 50% in the next decade from about 500,000 transatlantic flights per year. 

Transatlantic flights on the rise

Martin Rolfe, NATS CEO, said, “The trial in the North Atlantic, the busiest oceanic airspace in the world, with over 500,000 flights every year and a forecasted 800,000 flights per year by 2030, will demonstrate to the entire aviation industry, that global, space-based ADS-B can revolutionize the service that we provide to our customers and the traveling public by transforming the way we perform air traffic management over remote regions.” 


The ADS-B technology used by Aireon will become mandatory in all planes in the US and Europe next year. 

“To know the position, speed and altitude of every ADS-B equipped aircraft in oceanic airspace – in real-time – is a transformational change to how our controllers manage air traffic,” said Neil Wilson, president and CEO of NAV CANADA. 

Iridium satellite constellation complete

“The Aireon system provides an immediate boost to aviation safety and airlines will benefit from more fuel-efficient routings and flight levels. Over 95 percent of the North Atlantic traffic is already ADS-B equipped so the fuel savings, along with the reduced carbon dioxide emissions will be attained very quickly.” 

The Aireon system uses the Iridium satellite constellation. The final satellite in the collection was deployed in January this year. Aireon then conducted rigorous testing of the full satellite tracking system before unveiling it to the UK and Canadian airspace regulators. 

On 8 March 2014 Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 left Kuala Lumpur headed for Beijing with 239 people onboard, it lost contact with air traffic control less than an hour into the flight and has not been located since.

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