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September 11, 2015

Inmarsat flight tracking system seeks end to lost aircraft

Operator brings reporting times down to slots of 14 minutes in line with UN’s ICAO 15 minute target.

By Joao Lima

Inmarsat has designed a satellite-based tracking system for commercial flights in a venture to put an end to lost aircraft.

The company has this week concluded a safety evaluation alongside Airservices Australia to assess improved flight tracking services on commercial airline flights.

The flight operators in the evaluation included Qantas Airways and Virgin Australia, with flights to and from Australia monitored using existing satellite communication capabilities.

The operator said it has handed a "comprehensive report" to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) containing guidance to the global aviation industry on ways to meet the flight tracking requirements outlined by ICAO in February this year.

Recent incidents like the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370 over the South of China Sea on March 8, 2014, have led the industry to re-evaluate its aircraft tracking policies.

Inmarsat said the trial supports ICAO’s efforts to enhance global flight tracking in coordination with aviation industry stakeholders, governments and other related specialists.

Today, commercial aircraft has to report their position every 30 to 40 minutes, with the ICAO, a UN aviation agency, proposing this to be changed to a minimum 15-minute basis from the end of 2016.

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Anthony Philbin, spokesman at ICAO, told Reuters in January that the organisation’s scheme is a "foundational flight tracking standard".

Following the UN’s proposal, Inmarsat and Airservices Australia entered into a collaboration to determine if existing Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Contract (ADS-C) capabilities could meet ICAO’s normal tracking requirements in oceanic airspace, with ADS-C being used over oceanic and remote areas establishing links between aircraft and air traffic control systems.

The two organisations started trials in January, achieving a minimum reporting rate of 14 minutes across all oceanic airspace managed by Australia in the Brisbane Flight Information Region (FIR), northern Australia, Honiara and Nauru oceanic airspace, and Melbourne’s flight information region.

Captain Mary McMillan, VP of Inmarsat’s safety and operational services division, said: "Ongoing monitoring of the Inmarsat satcom network continues to confirm that the increased message frequency has had negligible impact on the network and total ADS-C messages.

"This represents a neutral or minimal cost impact and at the same time, we have not experienced any deterioration in ADS-C communication performance."

Inmarsat added that Airservices Australia has adopted the 14 minute reporting requirement as its standard operating procedure in oceanic airspace with other air navigation service providers (ANSPs) launching evaluations in this space as a result of the experience.

In May, the company made a proposal to ICAO offering the service for free to all 11,000 commercial passenger aircraft, which are already equipped with an Inmarsat satellite connection.

Rupert Pearce, CEO of Inmarsat, said: "In the wake of the loss of MH370, we believe this is simply the right thing to do. Because of the universal nature of existing Inmarsat aviation services, our proposals can be implemented right away on all ocean-going commercial aircraft using equipment that is already installed."

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