Eurocontrol's single European sky air traffic management research (SESAR) agency has been tasked by the European Commission with investigating the costs and benefits of increasing the frequency of oceanic reporting for airline flights, Flight Global has learned.
The request, revealed during the US FAA's annual international aviation safety conference in Washington DC this week, comes in the aftermath of the loss of Air France Flight 447, an Airbus A330 with 228 on board that disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean off the east coast of Brazil on 1 June. Officials called off the search for the aircraft's voice and flight data recorders on 20 August.
SESAR executive director Patrick Ky says position reporting intervals, depending on an aircraft's location in the Atlantic, vary from 10-20 minutes. Considering a cruise airspeed of 500kt, a 20 minute position results in a position uncertainty of approximately 170 nm (315km). "The level of uncertainty of position is extremely high," says Ky.
While technology is not a barrier to better position knowledge, the cost for sending additional data over satellite links could be a sticking point.
Ky says part of the project, which has "just started", will be to work with satellite service providers to "see if there's a way to lower costs". One possibility could be to buy services in bulk, as a large number of carriers would have to use the service to justify the benefit of avoiding a lengthy search for data recorders. "We have to do this in a global manner," he says. "It must be institutional."
The study, which Ky says is "just starting", will also look at lowering the cost of the data service by increasing the position reports only if "severe conditions exist" or if aircraft health monitors indicate certain abnormal conditions.
SESAR also plans to look at the possibility of down-linking additional performance data with the position reports or otherwise, a parallel effort with work underway at Airbus, and to design triggers for when a search and rescue (SAR) operation should be launched. "In the case of Flight 447, there was some time in which no one knew what to do in terms of launching a SAR effort," Ky explains.