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It’s called ADS-B, and it’s a big deal for aviation.
Of the many questions raised by the vanishing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in 2014, the most vexing was also the most fundamental: How could aviation authorities lose track of an entire Boeing 777 BA 0.87% and the 239 people on board? Many were surprised to learn that across vast swaths of the planet—particularly over oceans—air traffic controllers have only a vague idea of the location of many of the world’s airliners at any given moment.
“Air traffic controllers aren’t tracking you in real time,” says Don Thoma, CEO of Aireon, a partnership between global communications satellite operator Iridium and a handful of air traffic control providers. By early 2018 Aireon intends to change that. Instead of conventional radar, it plans to launch a satellite-based communications network that can precisely track passenger aircraft—and in doing so, trim fuel consumption, shorten flight times, and save airlines hundreds of millions of dollars a year.