We have good news and bad news.
The bad news is that yes, airplanes can just disappear, as the mystery of the final location of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 proves. The good news is that companies are actively working to make sure all flights are live-tracked, no matter their position in the skies.
It's something that is long overdue since, as our own Barbara Peterson recently explained, "current air traffic surveillance worldwide is a patchwork of conventional radar and satellite coverage that can have wide gaps in coverage." Fortunately, flight tracking company FlightAware has partnered with Aireon satellite logistics to activate a new space-based tracking network that hopes to fill those gaps.
The receivers are "staged for launch" at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California right now. Once in orbit, they'll receive live positions from airplanes traveling around the world as the first and only truly global flight tracking system, covering the North and South poles as well as every ocean and every desert in the world.
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"For travelers, it means that when they’re flying across an ocean or over the North Pole, for the first time ever, airlines will be able to track their flights on a minute-by-minute basis," FlightAware CEO Daniel Baker tellsCondé Nast Traveler. "Travelers can rest assured that the airline team on the ground is keeping an eye on their flight’s progress and able to assist at any time, with the maximum amount of flight tracking data possible."
But really, how often do you fly over the North Pole or across remote swathes of ocean? The answer is far more often than you might think, and routes are only getting longer as newer aircraft with improved fuel economy become available. Have you ever hopped on a non-stop flight from New York to Hong Kong? Those go over the North Pole every day. What about flying from the U.S. to Australia or Africa, or even just Hawaii?
All of these flight routes require lengthy periods of over-ocean flying in areas that cannot support land-based tracking—because there's simply no land on which to base the necessary equipment. FlightAware turns to the sky for the solution. According to Baker, they expect to provide Aireon’s space-based data to airlines in 2017, with the system fully operational with global coverage by 2018.