UN agency adopts new satellite tracking of in-flight aircraft to improve safety

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The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) adopted on Tuesday the main technical principles of an enhanced satellite tracking system for in-flight aircraft to improve safety in the skies.

At any given time, there are approximately 59,000 aircraft in flight worldwide, and the ability to effectively track, monitor and report these aircraft is paramount to ensuring the safety of passengers and crew, as well as that of communities on the ground.

According to ITU, the new satellite tracking system is called aircraft automatic dependent surveillance. It’s a technique in which aircraft automatically provide, via a data link, data from the on-board navigation and position-fixing systems, including aircraft identification, four-dimensional position such as latitude, longitude, altitude and time, and additional data, as appropriate.

The term “automatic” means there is no intervention from the pilot or interrogation from terrestrial stations, and “dependent” suggests that the data is dependent upon on-board systems such as global positioning system and altimeter.

The system relays the information of an airliner to relevant airline operators and air traffic control centers, who then track the aircraft by identifying any anomalies in its flight profile and initiate emergency procedures where necessary.

ITU’s move to improve the tracking of in-flight aircraft using advanced information and communication technologies can be traced back to the tragedy of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in 2014, said ITU Secretary-General Zhao Houlin.

“The adoption of these technical principals for enhanced aircraft surveillance via satellite will make great strides in saving lives,” he added.

Within the framework of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), different aircraft automatic dependent surveillance systems have been standardized, such as terrestrial automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) and automatic dependent surveillance-contract (ADS-C).

The technical principals adopted by ITU support reception of ADS-B via satellite, which would enhance surveillance of aircraft particularly in areas where terrestrial receivers cannot practically be deployed, such as in oceanic, trans-polar and remote regions. It would also be a major step in implementing ICAO global aeronautical distress and safety system.

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