The flight-tracking data company FlightAware has partnered
with Aireon, an avionics company, to offer what both said will be the most
cost-efficient global flight-tracking product on the market.
Global Beacon, as the product is to be known, is slated to
be fully operational in early 2018. Qatar Airways has signed on as the service's
Once operational, Global Beacon will track the location of
aircraft on a minute-by-minute basis as they cross oceans, making it easier for
search-and-rescue teams to pinpoint planes in the event of a crash.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) will
require that aircraft report their positions at least every 15 minutes by 2021,
with minute-by-minute reporting when a plane is in distress.
A one-minute interval, said FlightAware vice president of
operations Mark Duell, leaves a margin of uncertainty of no more than 10 miles
in a particular direction.
Such tracking would make the scenario that befell Malaysia
Air Flight 370 in 2014, which disappeared over the South China Sea, unlikely.
Facilitating the Global Beacon system, Duell said, will be
the worldwide network of 66 satellites that Iridium Satellite Communications
will have deployed by the time the service launches. Iridium is working with
Aireon to equip those satellites with Automatic Dependent
Surveillance-Broadcast systems (ADS-B) that communicate directly with aircraft
In the U.S. and EU, aircraft will be required by 2020 to be
equipped with ADS-B transponders so that air traffic controllers will be able
to track planes with the satellite-based NextGen system that the FAA currently
has under development.
Duell said that unlike other satellite networks, which
typically only span between 65 degrees north latitude and 65 degrees south
latitude, the Iridium network will span from pole to pole.
"The real breakthrough from Beacon is that you can pick
up those signals from transponders around the world," he said.
Global Beacon isn't the only product that seeks to improve
over-ocean flight tracking. Alberta-based Flyht Aerospace Solutions, for
example, has developed technology that it said has the ability to monitor
flight operations in real time. And it, too, will make use of Iridium's
pole-to-pole satellite network.
Thus far, 50 mostly small airlines, including 19 in China,
use the Flyht system, which employs a seven-pound data box that is installed in
aircraft, CEO Tom Schmutz said.
Flyht uses satellite communication to track aircraft and,
unlike Global Beacon, also monitors various performance parameters, such as
engine temperature. As a result, airlines can establish operational threshold
levels for setting off an alert. When a threshold is met, real-time data
streaming is triggered.
"We offer a great deal more capability," Schmutz
said, comparing his product with that of Global Beacon.
The Flyht system can be installed for less than $100,000 per
Duell said that cost is a major advantage for Global Beacon
because the Aireon ADS-B system will communicate directly from Iridium
satellites to aircraft transponders. With the ADS-B-equipped transponders
required by 2020, there is no extra startup hardware to install.
During the late September launch-partner announcement, Qatar
CEO Akbar Al Baker asserted that Global Beacon would "seamlessly integrate"
with his carrier's aircraft.
"We will be the first airline in the world to have the
capability to use worldwide satellite air surveillance to support our airline
operations and to achieve the highest of flight-tracking standards ahead of the
ICAO 2021 mandate," he said in prepared remarks.
Duell said he expects to be able to announce additional
airline clients either late this year or early next year.