How Satellite-Based Aircraft Tracking Will Revolutionize Flying


On March 13, the United States and Canada both grounded the Boeing 737 MAX, among the last countries to make the move to ban the aircraft from their airspace. The decision was made, in part, from detailed “new data” outlining the final flight paths of Lion Air 610 and Ethiopian Airlines 302 that had been made available just hours before to Transport Canada and the Federal Aviation Administration.

But where did that new data come from?

It came from Aireon, the newly operational space-based aircraft tracking network that could be the most important development in locating planes since radar was invented in World War II.

Aireon is a fusion of technologies, linked together to solve a problem that has vexed the aviation industry for decades: How to accurately and dynamically track an aircraft over the 70% of the world that’s beyond the limited range of land-based radar.

The first piece of the equation is something called Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast location reporting — you’ve seen it referred to as ADS-B. Instead of air traffic controllers locating an aircraft by using a radar beam that bounces from a target every few seconds, planes with ADS-B broadcast a precise GPS-generated position report every half-second.

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