Search operations for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 have now been suspended with reports saying that the plan appears to have gone down in the southern Indian Ocean, with loss of all passengers. The total area searched was 2.97 million square miles, over 11% of the Indian Ocean and 1.5% of the Earth’s surface.
In our earlier blog, we talked of technology aiding in the hunt of the airlines. Here we would like to draw attention to emerging technologies that can make aviation safer.
Although aircrafts use GPS for navigation, the technology doesn’t relay these signals back to the air traffic control (ATC) towers, which still rely on radar information to track aircrafts and radar has its own limitations.
What the aviation industry may need is to adopt a permanent, always-on tracking system for aircrafts. Notwithstanding the fact that reports suggest that key communications systems onboard the MH370 were switched off, the arguments for mandatory, constant onboard location transmission are gaining ground. Improvements in satellite technology make it an effective solution as well. However, industry adoption is critical to the technology’s success, alongside enforcement by regulatory bodies worldwide.
The Federal Aviation Administration is looking to improve the efficiency of aircraft tracking by transitioning to next-gen ATC systems that use satellites to track planes. Together with ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast) that allows aircrafts to relay their GPS information to the ground, and to other planes in the vicinity, these systems could enable aircrafts to transmit real-time data via satellites to air traffic controllers, even over water.
Similarly, fitting aircrafts with technology that makes use of the Cloud could also help prevent similar incidents in the future. Instead of relying on radar systems for tracking, aircraft systems need upgrades that have them send flight information, including pilot conversations, to cloud storage systems automatically and regularly. This information could be accessible to air traffic controllers as digital signals through satellite networks.
Upgrades to the plane’s data streaming systems, which enable the transfer of data such as flight speed, direction, altitude, and fuel consumption to satellites at regular intervals, may have helped hasten this search. This location data system continues to send signals even if an aircraft’s normal communication systems go dead—an upgrade that could have given investigators a fairly accurate GPS location based on the aircraft’s last ping. It is this technology that ensured that the search area for the Air France jet, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009, was narrowed considerably.
In this case, however, the key to discovering what actually happened might be in finding the aircraft’s black boxes. Are you aware of any pioneering research in the area of aviation disaster management? Please leave your comments in the section below.