Inmarsat Tests Show Current Technology Can Track Lost Jets

Inmarsat Plc, the satellite company that helped trace the route of the Malaysian jet that vanished last year, said tests have proved planes can be tracked over oceans at 15-minute intervals without significantly raising costs.

Trials involving flights operated by Qantas Airways Ltd. and Virgin Australia Airlines Pty Ltd. show existing technology is able to identify plane positions at least every 15 minutes, the mobile-communications provider said in a statement Thursday.

The current reporting gap of every 30 to 40 minutes will be outlawed by the International Civil Aviation Organization from 2017 following the loss of Flight MH370 somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Inmarsat said its tests suggest 15-minute location checks are feasible while maintaining a “good balance” between costs, system limitations and normal monitoring requirements.

The search for the missing jet has been one of the most complex in aviation history. All investigators know for sure is that it reversed course en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and flew south, with a wing part found on the island of Reunion in July the only physical evidence of its demise. Inmarsat used electronic “handshakes” between the plane and a satellite to show that it probably went down 1,000 miles off Australia.

Searchers took almost two years to find the wreckage of Air France Flight 447, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean between Brazil and Africa in 2009. The hunt cost $40 million.

London-based Inmarsat evaluated the capabilities of ADS-C technology. The system lets planes beyond radar range provide flight details to ground stations by satellite using Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System datalinks.

Results of the tests have been delivered to ICAO and the International Air Transport Association, Inmarsat said.

Australia has adopted a 14-minute reporting requirement as standard in oceanic airspace and other air-traffic services providers are evaulating the results of the trials, it said.

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