Communications satellite specialist Inmarsat has put forward to ICAO a proposal to establish a free aircraft-tracking service for airlines.

The proposal follows the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER on 8 March, no trace of which has been discovered despite an extensive oceanic search, and comes as ICAO prepares to discuss tracking technology at a Montreal gathering this week.

Inmarsat has contributed to the hunt for flight MH370 through the analysis of brief log-in exchanges between one of its satellites and the aircraft.

These exchanges have provided the only indication of the aircraft’s trajectory since it vanished from primary and secondary radar coverage while en route to Beijing. But analysis of the data – never intended for tracking purposes – has not yielded a definite location for the crash site.

But Inmarsat says it can take advantage of the routine log-in signals to embed basic flight parameters derived from the aircraft.

“Now that we know we have these ‘pings’, why not make use of them?” says Inmarsat senior vice-president for external affairs Chris McLaughlin.

Inmarsat says it will offer the “free global airline tracking service” through its basic Classic Aero service, making it available to all aircraft fitted with the capability. It says this covers “virtually” the entire long-haul fleet.

“Our proposals can be implemented right away on all ocean-going commercial aircraft using equipment that is already installed,” says Inmarsat chief Rupert Pearce.

Investigators suspect that deliberate interference with MH370’s communication systems played a role in its disappearance. McLaughlin says Inmarsat’s priority is to offer a tracking service first, with the option to tamper-proof the capability – perhaps through a hardware adaptation – if necessary.

“We didn’t want to pre-empt [the industry requirement],” he says.

The company will separately offer an “in the cloud” service for real-time flight-recorder information which would be triggered by specific conditions, such as unexpected deviation from the flightpath. Inmarsat adds that it can also provide enhanced position reporting, which has the additional benefit of supporting closer separation.

“We are confident that the proposals we have presented to ICAO and IATA represent a major contribution to enhancing aviation safety services on a global basis,” says Pearce. “In the wake of the loss of MH370, we believe this is simply the right thing to do.”

Inmarsat’s is putting forward its suggestion ahead of the ICAO conference on 12 May which is to discuss aircraft tracking strategies, including the type of data required and methods of gathering it autonomously.

“Technology is available today which can support an active approach towards tracking airline flights,” says an ICAO secretariat presentation from the conference. But it acknowledges that the ability to track flights over oceanic and remote areas is “challenging” and that the reporting rate is an “important consideration for determining cost”.

Source: Cirium Dashboard