Star in-flight safety monitoring system gains traction

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A real-time in-flight safety monitoring system (ISMS), developed by Toronto-headquartered Star Navigation Systems Group, is attracting increasing industry interest for use as a potential counterpart to traditional black boxes.

The new Star-ISMS, an in-house solution with built-in GPS tracking software, is coming to market at a time when airlines and airframers are studying how flight-critical data could be more easily retrieved in the event of an accident, following the fatal loss of an Air France Airbus A330 over the South Atlantic on 1 June 2009.

The flight data recorder (FDR) of the A330 was never recovered, prompting Airbus to begin studying systems to transmit flight data via air-to-ground links in a commercially viable way.

In November 2010 Star commenced work with EADS's space division Astrium and the General Directorate for Civil Aviation (DGAC) of France on a study aimed at proposing solutions to meet the need to access in-flight positioning and monitoring data for commercial aircraft while in oceanic or remote airspace.

The technical partnership agreement with Astrium "for a small company like Star is a dream come true", says company CEO Viraf Kapadia.

He says Star is also gearing up to install its new Star-ISMS on a Boeing 737 operated by Shaheen Air International of Pakistan once supplemental type certification is awarded. If the trial is successful, Shaheen intends to acquire a further 11 Star-ISMS systems for the balance of its fleet, says Kapadia.

Star favours the cost-efficient Iridium satellite network, which provides pole-to-pole coverage, for transmissions. "However, we are satellite independent. We can transmit via any satellite system. If a customer wants Inmarsat or Thuraya, we can work with that as well," says Kapadia.

Star's original, off-the-shelf ISMS system has been trialled on a Pakistan International Airlines Airbus A310-300 for over two-and-a-half years. "It's working better than we expected because the local CAA of Pakistan asked for a list of parameters for flight operations quality assurance (FOQA) and we are able to deliver all those parameters, plus end-of-flight reports or engine condition monitoring, as well as flight reports for fuel, and performance of various [other] parameters of the aircraft," says Kapadia.

The system transmits for a period of about six to 12 minutes per hour, but if there is a problem, the system immediately logs on. Star has also secured a deal with an as-yet-undisclosed Asian operator, and is poised to sign an agreement with a major North American entity.