Travel Trends International deal struck to track all flights with satellites

UN-backed accord will see all commercial flights use system that reports aircraft whereabouts every 15 minutes

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A deal has been struck on using satellites to track flights, which could prevent a repeat of the mystery that surrounded the disappearance of flight MH370 in March 2014.

Countries reached an accord at a conference hosted by the UN’s International Telecommunication Union that aimed to improve on the current civilian flight tracking, which relies on ground-based radars.

“In reaching this agreement … ITU has responded in record time to the expectations of the global community on the major issue concerning global flight tracking,” said the organisation’s secretary general, Houlin Zhao.

The ITU made clear the deal had been driven by the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which was lost en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people onboard. That tragedy “spurred worldwide discussions on global flight tracking and the need for coordinated action,” the organisation said.

Representatives of more than 160 nations attended the talks, known as the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC).

The ITU said a frequency band previously used to transmit signals from aircraft to terrestrial stations would be made available to send transmissions from aircraft to satellites.

This change would enable “real-time tracking of aircraft anywhere in the world,” said François Rancy, director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau.

The new system is expected to be fully implemented in 2017. Rancy noted that most planes already had the necessary equipment, so compliance would not pose major logistical hurdles.

The UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation has previously voiced support for a proposal that would make it obligatory for airlines to track their aircraft using a system that gives its location at 15-minute intervals.

The ground-based radars currently in use can track a plane flying high over land but coverage is sketchy and fades when aircraft are out at sea or they are flying below a certain altitude.

Finding consensus on other agenda items at the WRC could prove tougher, however. There will be discussions on using existing satellites to provide coordinates to civilian unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, and whether to change the way radio spectrum is used by different radio transmission technologies and applications.

The US among others wants to see a reallocation of a significant amount of spectrum for emerging 5G mobile networks, but this is a touchy subject, as most of the high-quality spectrum is used by broadcasters. Striking a deal by the end of the conference on 27 November is not guaranteed.

Source: The Guardian

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