An MH370 incident may never occur again thanks to Aireon

Aireon has this week announced the launch of their new emergency tracking service for aircraft in distress. In a situation where an aircraft is in an emergency situation, Aireon ALERT can quickly define the last known position and flight track of any aircraft which is ADS-B Out equipped.

Alert tracking
Aireon ALERT promises pinpoint tracking anywhere in the world. Image: Aireon

Aireon’s aircraft location and emergency response tracking (ALERT) system is being operated by the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA). It’s a first-of-its-kind service which is being offered for free to assist with locating aircraft in distress.

Peter Kearny, the CEO of IAA, said in a statement,

“We have been preparing for this moment for a long time, and we are proud to host and operate the world’s first global aircraft locating system … As of now, our facility in Ballygirreen is providing the Aireon ALERT service every day, no matter the hour, and we are excited to play such a critical role in delivering this game-changing service to the aviation community.”

The system will be administered by the IAA at their North Atlantic Communications Centre in Ballygirreen, County Clare. The system went live on July 9th, and promises to make incidents like the disappearance of MH370 a thing of the past.

What is Aireon ALERT?

Aireon ALERT is the first global tracking system for ANSPs, commercial operators, regulators and search and rescue organizations to use in an emergency situation. The system uses ADS-B receivers carried by Iridium Next satellites to pinpoint transponder equipped aircraft. It promises to provide accurate tracking information for any ADS-B OUT 1090MHz equipped aircraft to registered users, through a 24/7 contact center.

Aireon’s space-based ADS-B system promises to track any aircraft, anywhere in the world. Image: Aireon

When contacted, an operator at Aireon ALERT will provide a map of the last 15 minutes of the aircraft’s flight, based on the aircraft’s ID or Hex address. This map will include a minute by minute plot of its path, specified in four dimensions to include time, altitude, and position. The information will be given over the phone but also emailed as a report to the organization requesting the data.

You can watch their promotional video below:

Don Thoma, CEO of Aireon, commented,

“Aireon ALERT can provide the most accurate and precise aircraft locating data for emergency and distress situations, free of charge … [we] see it as our duty to provide this data to the proper authorities to assist in emergency situations.”

ALERT users don’t need to be customers of Aireon or of the IAA in order to make use of the service. However, the company is asking those wishing to access the service to register now, so that there is no delay in locating an aircraft in an emergency situation. Registration has been open since October, and now users can begin making use of the system.

Alert minute by minute tracking
Aireon ALERT will give minute by minute tracking. Image: Aireon

Limitations of Aireon Alert

It should be noted that Aireon ALERT alone will not allow stakeholders to be compliant with existing and upcoming International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Global Aeronautical Distress Safety System (GADSS) standards. The ALERT system is designed simply to get the last known position of any aircraft in a phase of uncertainty, distress or emergency. Other ADS-B tracking services should be sought for this purpose.

Aircraft with older or lower powered ADS-B transmitters may not be able to benefit from the entire functionality of ALERT. The system has been designed by Aireon to work with transmitters of at least 120W. Lower grade transmitters may work, to some extent, but the update rate may not be as regular as for a compliant transmitter. In the event of trying to locate an aircraft without a 1090MHz transmitter, Aireon will work to provide whatever information it has available.

before ALERT
Before ALERT there were big areas where aircraft could not be accurately tracked. Image: Aireon

Prior to the launch of ALERT, global surveillance was simply not possible. Remote locations, including polar latitudes and oceanic areas, often had very little, if any, air traffic surveillance. As a result, aircraft such as MH370, were able to simply disappear from tracking systems, leading to great problems in attempting to locate the distressed craft.

It is hoped that, with the new services provided by ALERT, aircraft movements will be easier to track and therefore cases of missing aircraft will become a thing of the past.

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