Satellite company sees new role in real-time transmission of cockpit voice and flight recorder information

Satellite communication provider Iridium Satellite has proposed to the US Federal Aviation Administration the use of its 66 low Earth orbiting satellite system for real-time cockpit voice and flight data monitoring.

Iridium is proposing that voice and data signals captured by the cockpit and flight data recorders be transmitted via present FAA-certificated equipment to Iridium satellites and sent to secure FAA data centres for live monitoring.

The service, which would "address national security concerns related to aircraft safety and control, could be deployed quickly using commercial off-the-shelf components", says the satellite system operator, which purchased the assets of the original Motorola-led Iridium company after its bankruptcy last year.

Iridium believes its system, which is operated by Boeing, could give ground personnel unrestricted, real-time access to vital data from the aircraft's cockpit voice and flight data recorders, which currently store the data for later retrieval on the ground.

"The Iridium system-could have a profound impact on aircraft safety both through active use and as a deterrent," says the company.

The service could provide an immediate response in the event of a medical, terrorist or other in-flight emergency, it suggests. Monitoring could be initiated from the ground when flight parameters are breached, or continuously as part of basic flight operations, with the capability to record the full length of the flight, it adds.

If the FAA and other aviation agencies take up the proposal, the service would provide a new business stream for the satellite system, which is currently aimed at government, industrial and humanitarian relief markets rather than the private users who were the focus of the original system.

Meanwhile, Boeing is examining onboard surveillance applications for its Connexion services in an effort to improve aircraft security and safety.

Connexion is being designed to provide internet, e-mail and television services to airline passengers, but the manufacturer believes the two-way broadband data services could also be developed to support the use of surveillance cameras in the cockpit, for example, with images delivered to the ground via the Connexion link. Longer term applications under consideration include exploiting Boeing's air traffic management expertise to develop remote control capability.

Source: Flight International