Aireon to offer satellite tracking free
to help search for missing planes
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[September 22, 2014]
By Alwyn Scott and Jeffrey Dastin
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Aireon LLC, a
provider of satellite-based aircraft monitoring, said on Monday it will
offer its tracking data for free to help authorities search for future
The system will go live in 2017, when its parent company Iridium
Communications Inc finishes installing 66 next-generation satellites
plus spares that will provide real-time data to air traffic control
While Aireon's system might not have prevented the loss of Malaysia
Airlines Flight 370, which vanished from radar on March 8 and is
presumed to have crashed, killing 239 people, it could have vastly
improved the search. Existing technology can track aircraft flying
over seas every 10 minutes, while Aireon says its upcoming system
will transmit location data twice per second, using what's known as
automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast, or ADS-B.
"Because of these inter-satellite links, it not only provides
pole-to-pole coverage, but it gives real-time transfer of that
data," Aireon's chief executive Don Thoma said. "In the event of an
accident or an emergency, we would have that information (and)
provide it to the appropriate authorities."
The McLean, Virginia-based company has received more than $280
million from air traffic authorities in Canada, Italy, Ireland and
Denmark as well as from Iridium to put ADS-B capability on the
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has erected 634 towers
nationwide to support ADS-B communications, although unlike
satellite systems, the coverage is limited to aircraft flying over
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The FAA has not announced whether it will enter an agreement for
satellite service with Aireon or Iridium's competitor, Inmarsat Plc.
While Thoma would not comment on the FAA's timeline for choosing a
system, he said Aireon was working with regulators to help them make
Thoma expects major carriers to outfit more than 90 percent of their
new planes with the necessary hardware by 2020 as more governments
require airlines to transmit ADS-B data.
Aireon's emergency service will be free assuming that the lost
aircraft is already compatible with its system. Data on a missing
plane would be unavailable if someone maliciously turned off the
surveillance system in-flight as well.
(Reporting by Alwyn Scott and Jeffrey Dastin in New York; Editing by
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