The partnership of flight-tracking data company FlightAware and the avionics provider Aireon has gone live with a system that can provide airlines with minute-by-minute flight tracking anywhere in the world.
Qatar Airways is the launch partner for the system, called Global Beacon, which is designed to prevent scenarios such as the disappearance of the doomed Malaysia Air Flight 370 over the South China Sea in 2014. Bangkok Airways and Icelandair have also announced that they will be adopting the system.
The product launch comes on the week that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which is the aviation arm of the United Nations, will begin requiring airlines to have updated aircraft tracking information available every 15 minutes. It also comes in the run-up to the 2021 onset of an ICAO requirement that aircraft autonomously transmit their position every minute during times of distress.
Facilitating the Global Beacon system is the worldwide network of 66 Iridium Satellite Communications satellites that Aireon has equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast systems (ADS-B). Such systems communicate directly with aircraft transponders, meaning that airlines don't have to install additional hardware.
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 has under development.
Unlike older generation satellite networks, which typically only spanned between 65 degrees north latitude and 65 degrees south latitude, the Iridium network spans from pole to pole, thereby allowing for the global tracking.
Other vendors, including Alberta-based Flyht Aerospace Solutions, have also developed technology geared toward meeting the 2021 ICAO standards.
In lieu of transponders, Flyht's solution employs a data box that is installed in the aircraft.