Malaysia Airlines Becomes First to Use Space-Based Aircraft Tracking

More than three years since the mysterious disappearance of Flight 370, the airline will soon start tracking airplanes with satellites.

Malaysia Airlines
Malaysia Airlines has teamed up with Aireon, FlightAware and Sitaonair to track its entire fleet by satellite beginning in 2018.Malaysia Airlines

On March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 departed from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing with 239 passengers and crew members on board. The Boeing 777-200ER never made it to its destination, and the disappearance of the airplane has become one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history. This week, Malaysia Airlines signed a new deal with Aireon, FlightAware and Sitaonair to be the first in the industry to use satellites to track all aircraft, to avoid such a tragedy in the future.

The Aircom FlightTracker will be online in 2018 and offer the airline “minute-by-minute, 100 percent global flight-tracking data,” according to a press release. In evolving beyond today’s tracking systems, Malaysia Airlines will be able to take advantage of the recently-launched Iridium Next satellite constellation and the combination of Sitaonair’s current Aircom FlightTracker with Aireon’s space-based ADS-B data to deliver real-time position updates to the airline’s operations center.

The ADS-B data is particularly crucial, as it will help “resolve any existing data feed coverage gaps,” including oceanic and remote airspace. “The result would be that Malaysia Airlines will have greater visibility as to their aircraft’s exact location,” said Daniel Baker, FlightAware Chief Executive Officer.

One immediate benefit for the airline is that it won’t need to update or modify the avionics in any of its aircraft. The new data will appear in Malaysia Airline flight systems as soon as the Aireon system becomes operational in 2018.

“Real-time global aircraft tracking has long been a goal of the aviation community,” said Captain Izham Ismail, Chief Operating Officer for Malaysia Airlines. “We are proud to be the first airline to adopt this solution.”