When Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared in March, the world became acutely aware of limitations in aircraft surveillance. But now airlines are in the process of adopting a new satellite-based air traffic control technology, which will replace radar as the primary tracking method for planes – and hopefully stop planes from vanishing.
The system, Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), uses a transmitter installed aboard aircraft to stream position and velocity data, via a radio-frequency broadcast, to operations control centres and other planes. Since it uses GPS, ADS-B can pinpoint missing airliners to within dozens of metres, versus the 160 km range seen in radars.
This year, 658 of the 660 planned ADS-B ground radio stations will enter service. A network of 66 upgraded satellites will also launch into orbit by the end of 2017, covering the planet and closing gaps in radar and ground stations that contributed to the vanishing of aircraft MH370. The hardware is ready, but airlines must pay the R1 000 000 bill to install ADS-B in each of their aircrafts. The FAA and other government agencies have mandated that this addition be done by 2020.