Malaysia Jet Probe Seeks Fresh Inmarsat Insight Into Crash Site

Communications satellite operator Inmarsat Plc, whose calculations first showed that Malaysian Air Flight 370 flew south over the Indian Ocean, said it’s crunching data in a bid to better establish the jet’s last position.

Inmarsat is providing “more analysis and refinement” and “looking at what else we can do with the data that’s at hand,” Andrew Sukawaty, the London-based company’s executive chairman, said in an interview in Abu Dhabi.

“We continue to provide data, we continue to be asked to refine that data,” Sukawaty said, adding that Inmarsat is part of a British contingent including the U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch that’s aiding Malaysian investigators.

Inmarsat engineers worked flat following the March 8 disappearance of Flight MH370, calculating two possible trajectories from passive return signals from the jet to its satellites before applying principles relating to the impact of movement on sound waves to determine it had headed south.

“This is such an unusual situation where communication was shut off and it was just our safety terminal in essence getting handshakes,” Sukawaty said at the Global Aerospace Summit. “We check on aircraft in the sky so we know not precisely where they are but what region they’re in so we can give it service.”

‘Very Sophisticated’

Inmarsat initially provided data that showed how long the returns from Flight MH370 were received, followed by numbers that revealed the plane’s angle from the satellite, which together produced the two search arcs, one stretching west of Australia and the other into central Asia, the executive said.

A third data set required “very sophisticated analysis” that applied so-called Doppler Effect principles to show that the plane was lost somewhere on the southern arc, where international search efforts have since been focused.

Inmarsat shared its information with customer SITA, the specialist information technology and telecommunications service provider that supports almost all of the world’s airlines, including Malaysian Airline System Bhd.

Further guidance on the crash zone would help search efforts in the Indian Ocean a month after the plane was lost.

With the Boeing Co. 777’s communications having been shut off and no wreckage found from a jet carrying 239 passengers and crew, ships are seeking signals from its black boxes in order to pin down the site somewhere west of Perth.

‘Inexpensive Process’

A towed device on navy vessel Ocean Shield detected a signal for two hours and 20 minutes over the weekend, followed by a second lasting for 13 minutes, according to retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who heads Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre. The sounds were 600 kilometers (373 miles) northeast of where a Chinese ship picked up signals earlier.

Sukawaty, speaking yesterday, said Inmarsat provides basic air-safety connectivity for 10,000 planes, “every aircraft that crosses the ocean, virtually,” with carriers choosing service levels based on commercial decisions and required standards.

With the International Air Transport Association planning to form a task force to evaluate the viability of real-time data downloads to constantly pinpoint the positions of aircraft, cost isn’t a significant issue, according to the executive.

“Providing things like location data through this feed is a fairly simple and inexpensive process,” Sukawaty said. “We even looked at more extensive data and for something like $7 to $10 per five-hour flight this data can be streamed.”

While some hardware might be required, Inmarsat’s terminals are installed and have no incremental cost, he said.