New tracking tool aims to stop planes vanishing

A global snapshot of the FlightLink monitoring system via the AirMap application.
A global snapshot of the FlightLink monitoring system via the AirMap application.PHOTO: PANASONIC AVIONICS

Panasonic's AirMap service designed to keep airlines in constant touch with their fleets

A new aircraft tracking system touted as one that will ensure no airplane goes missing again has been developed by Japanese electronics company Panasonic's United States-based aerospace arm.

The Web-based tracking tool, AirMap, which keeps airlines in constant contact with their aircraft, comes 2½ years after the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.

The aircraft vanished from radar screens on March 8, 2014, while en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, and ended its journey in the Indian Ocean. Believed to have been deliberately steered off course, it is still missing.

Panasonic Avionics joined satellite operators Iridium, Inmarsat and Globalstar in working to improve their flight tracking systems after MH370's disappearance.

Two airlines are already on board the AirMap service - Malaysia's AirAsia and Alaskan regional carrier Peninsula Airways. Another three are expected by the year-end.

The AirMap service is a software upgrade being offered at an "incremental fee" to airlines that already tap existing Panasonic Avionics technology.

MEETING MARKET NEEDS

Panasonic has been in the satellite communications business for over a decade, so this is really just an extension and application of existing technology due to developing market needs.

MR JEFFREY REX, Panasonic Avionics' director of engineering and business development, on the new product.

It allows airlines to customise alert triggers, which can be set to send updates to mission control centres as frequently as every minute.

Alerts can also be triggered by severe turbulence, a sudden altitude drop or a deviation from the flight path, prompting the airline to establish contact with the aircraft via text or voice messaging while continuing to get updates on its location.

Mr Jeffrey Rex, Panasonic Avionics' director of engineering and business development, told The Straits Times last week: "Panasonic has been in the satellite communications business for over a decade, so this is really just an extension and application of existing technology due to developing market needs."

The company, a leading supplier of in-flight entertainment and communication systems, also runs a mission control centre that operates round-the-clock.

It now supports nearly 300 airlines worldwide, Mr Rex said.

AirMap is an add-on service for two Panasonic products - FlightLink, which offers airlines the full GPS coverage of Iridium satellites, and eXConnect, an in-flight broadband connectivity system covering almost the whole world.

Panasonic Avionics' manager of aviation programmes, Mr Matt de Ris, said an airline using the AirMap product will be required to contact any aircraft that has not sent reports for more than 15 minutes.

This would be in line with new guidelines set earlier this year by the United Nations' civil aviation arm - the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) - which require all aircraft to report their position every 15 minutes over open ocean by November 2018.

The current industry standard is once every half-hour.

Separately, Iridium subsidiary Aireon is set to launch an upgrade for its own surveillance application, the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), in 2018.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2016, with the headline 'New tracking tool aims to stop planes vanishing'. Print Edition | Subscribe