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One airline figured out how to make sure its airplanes never disappear

First Air, a Canadian airliner, flies across some of the most remote and sparsely populated areas on the continent, with routes going as far north as Resolute Bay, in the Arctic Circle. Its planes are often beyond the reach of conventional radar. They are also nearly disappearance-proof. ( More...

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JW Smythe 4
Satellite uplink works if it can. With the antennas on top, if the aircraft goes inverted, or descends into extremely heavy weather, it can loose the link. That would have still been more than they had to start. With luck, it could have even sent GPS updates every 2.5 minutes.

The data charges alone would be expensive. It could be said "It will cost too much.". The problem there is, we're talking about an aircraft with the new purchase price (in 2012) at $88,000,000 USD. In addition, there is the lives and safety of the passengers, crew, and cargo.

Something like Globalstar's "Spot" product is cheap, and would have been a tremendous benefit.

With Globalstar Spot, it costs $100 for the device (currently on sale for $50). Basic service is $100/yr, which will send the updated location every 5 minutes. For $200/yr. Is the $100 hardware cost and $200/yr too expensive?! Versus the $88M aircraft? Aren't the passengers lives, and then timely updates to family who are wondering what was happening? If any of the families of passengers could go back in time, I'm sure *any* of them would throw $300 at it in a heart beat.

Iridium also has a variety of products for the same thing. They don't show the prices on the site, but Iridium is always more expensive than Globalstar. That was with good reason for years. Globalstar's coverage was frequently interrupted in service areas. Now that they've launched more satellites, they cover a good portion of the world.

Hell, I'm going on a cruise soon. I bought an old Globalstar sat phone, simply for the peace of mind that if something bad happens, I can call for help as soon as possible, rather than waiting for access to the onboard phones, or swimming impossible distances to shore to use a local line. Mostly, I expect to use it to have *my* phone ring, rather than running it through the ship's phones for a bazillion dollars a minute. :)
I am no good on this tech ! But on cost-benefit aspect all this makes a lot of sense. Even the insurance premia may come down ! Or if the insurance companies choose not to slash premia , they may make some more profit annually ! And so will the airline owners in terms of opportunity costs for a lost aircraft and etcetra .
Like any other empathizing human , I can not put a monitory tag on human lives or injuries or pain that will be avoided.
vanbess 1
Spot could be a basic solution TN CAP uses Spot's during training and in some missions
matt jensen 2
We have that system, plus our sat-phones. When travelling over the pole - you need all the help you can get.
Ole Eskildsen 1
Hi Matt, you didn't mention which system you were referring to or your mode of transport or even which pole.

I hope you are not developing a false sense of security. If you are referring to what JW Smythe is talking about above, the Globalstar Spot, then you probably will not get any coverage at the poles, ref. Globalstar's coverage map on this web site:

However, I think the whole concept sounds very promissing because it appears that very large areas including many remote areas are covered. If the Globalstar or another similar system were able to provide the shown coverage, and automatically transmit location coordinates periodically e.g. every couple of minutes (not more than 5 minutes for high speed aircraft) then that would certainly make searching for lost aircraft and ships much, much easier at what appears to be a trivial cost.

If all airlines (or nearly all) were to adopt (or be forced to by governments) such systems, then the additional cost of sufficient satellites to cover the entire globe when shared out would become achievable.
Mark Lansdell 2
Sorry for the misspellings like Melinea air. They seem to happen faster than I can fix them. I guess my fingers got fat at Thanksgiving.
Buddy , substance matters , not the spellings ! No ?
Mark Lansdell 1
Governments and their agencies are good at commanding everyone to follow a ruls, but not so good at making exceptions. I can understand why an air carrier like the one in the article might need tracking, and certainly Melania Air demonstrated a need in that part of the world, but there are a huge number of air routs that just don't need it. I'm much more concerned about the apparent dependence on electronic and robotic control of aircraft. Yesterday, I heard a news reader express concern over a pilots ability to take control over the programed auto pilot when he may not have been trained well enough to do that. These people vote. Sooner or later government agencies will respond. a hundred thousand dollars per copy for a gizmo we don't need in BOS/WASH will only escalate pricing doing nothing for safety. I do believe that CVRs and CDRs could stand some upgrading but mostly because we can, but One lesson from AF447 was too much information is the same as none. It didn't tell anyone where the crash occurred nor why. There was no indication in the reams of data transmitted that the pitots were iced.

joel wiley 1
I wonder if it includes a flight deck panic button for a user activated alarm. When we head into the back country, we take along more than we would for a trip along the highways. Sounds similar. There's lots of places to look up there.
Reform Part 23, and perhaps we will see more useful devices installed too.
Jules Tapper 1
I am quite amazed that aircraft can just disappear. Here in New Zealand we have mandatory emergency beacons fitted in all aircraft which transmit through the satellite system on 406mhz and can be turned on manually from the cockpit in an emergency and also have a g switch which can turn them on automatically on impact. The shortcoming of the latter is that the exterior transmitting aerial may break off in an accident thus preventing an adequate signal being sent from the distressed aircraft. Because of this, those of us here that fly - especially in remote areas, have for many years fitted on board tracking devices such as SPOT. Spidertrack or Trackplus. These units are small in size, simple to install and relatively cheap insurance with the latter costing the operators less than NZD$5 per hour on average to run. Smaller GA operators of fixed wing and helicopters in this area set their devices to give a position every two minutes or so and the latter two devices quoted show speed. altitude and direction along with a latitude/ logtitude position every time a transmission burst is made. Certainly narrows down the search area when last transmitted position is known. Flight details can be accessed from a computer or iphone type device. I have for many years just clipped my SPOT device on to the sunvisor . Unobtrusive and effective.
I also advise pilots that in an inflight emergency,trigger the emergency beacon manually while in the air so that at least a few bursts of signal may get out to the satellites before the aircraft gets down on the ground and possibly breaks off the transmitting aerial.
Mark Lansdell 1
After reading all I have with regard to the Air France incident, I don't think you can depend on the pilot for one reason or another. The crew for 447 were desperate in their attempts to bring the aircraft under control. It's all but obvious that they didn't know which way was up. It would have been too much to ask them to turn o an ELT. Further , the guys on the Malaysia Air flight that disappeared had no desire to be located. Something about that disaster stinks any way.
Jules Tapper 1
Hi Mark
The manual cockpit ELT activation switch is situated usually in an easy to reach location for the pilot and only takes a split second to operate for a thinking pilot. My suggestion of satellite trackers and ELT activation are only two practical suggestions in the toolbox of possible solutions and are offered after over 50 years direct involvement in aviation - mainly in some very remote areas.
Mark Lansdell 1
Gooday, Jules,
If I may paraphrase, a pilot's job has been described as 'hours of boredom punctuated by moments of terror'. The guys on 447 were pretty dagone busy for those couple of minutes and an all "ya gota do is" solution just doesn't compute as a good solution. We may disagree here, and that's OK. A solution for a once in 10 lifetimes situation can't be manual no matter how badly we pilots don't like systems that can't be turned off. For some reason we just seem to have a great dislike for inflight fire. To say that an ELT can be turned on in a split second is unreasonable when everything we do is reduced to check lists.while we're 'up to our as_ in alligators and trying to find the drain for the swamp. Where do you put the ELT on a check list when activation will probably never happen in your lifetime, at least that's the hope. As I said, the guys on 447 didn't know where up was and that's key to stall recovery. There are a lot of dollars that need to be spent before an automatic locator system. Some thought should be devoted to why the disappearances are all in that part of the globe. They aren't happening over the East coast of the USA or Western Europe. An ELT won't fix a pilot talent problem, a maintenance failure an ATC problem or a conspiracy. I might be persuaded to consider a stronger, longer lasting signal (ELT) from the CVR and FDR since we already demand them on all big iron and some others. I see no need to reinvent the wheel.
Jules Tapper 1
Hi Mark
Mine were two suggestions only which work here. With our helicopters, as soon as you turn on the Master switch the power flows into the Tracplus satellite tracking system and the pilot has to do nothing as a position signal is sent every two minutes ( or less if you want to alter the settings) My ELT comment is that if you are at altitude and something catastrophic happens that means you are definitely going down, whip on that manual ELT activation switch. A few Transmission bursts may assist searchers later. Of course in a partial system failure with a probability of maintaining control of the aircraft such an action would be well down the checklist. On that we agree
Mark Lansdell 1
I can't argue with any of that and I'm sure you get pretty busy in a helicopter when things don't go as planned. I don't know much about single or twin engine rotocraft operations. Your company, and I don't know where they operate voluntarily and in conjunction with your insurance carrier chooses to "track" their flights. Many here are advocating million dollar plus systems for airline aircraft even when not necessary. Realistically the UN is claiming more and more of these responsibilities and they don't know what's needed where. Malaysia may need tracking but the continental U.S. is pretty well covered with radar. I don't think we're going to loose a flight from EWR to BWI or DCA to DFW at this time.


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