Australia leads oceanic trial to improve aircraft tracking

Media Release

WT055/2015

01 March 2015

In the wake of the tragic disappearance of Malaysian flight MH 370, Australia's Air Traffic Control manager, Airservices Australia, will conduct a trial with its regional partners in Malaysia and Indonesia to more closely track aircraft through the skies over oceanic areas.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development Warren Truss said the MH 370 mystery has galvanised the three nations in a bid to improve aircraft monitoring, resulting in a trial that tracks long haul flights at least every 15 minutes.

While airlines flying over continental Australia are already tracked in real time by radars or continuous position reporting, the new minimum tracking interval for remote oceanic areas of 15 minutes improves on the previous tracking rate of 30–40 minutes. This can also now increase to real time monitoring should an abnormal situation arise.

The initiative, which adapts existing technology used by more than 90 per cent of long haul passenger aircraft operating, would see Air Traffic Control able to respond more rapidly should an aircraft experience difficulty or unexpectedly deviate from its flight path.

Mr Truss said Airservices had worked closely with Qantas, Virgin Australia and global satellite provider Inmarsat to successfully develop the operational concepts and trial the new use of surveillance technology with selected aircraft domestically since the beginning of February.

“This new approach enables immediate improvements to monitoring long haul flights and will give the public greater confidence in aviation, without requiring any additional technology investment by airlines,” he said.

“I especially welcome the involvement of both Indonesia and Malaysian Air Traffic Control providers to make this a truly regional initiative.”

Airservices Chair Sir Angus Houston said that an increased aircraft reporting rate will ensure that air traffic control agencies have much better information about the position of flights in oceanic areas and earlier advice of any abnormal flight behaviour.

“This is a strong first step as international agencies consider approaches to comprehensively track flights and the trial will provide valuable information for the development of global standards,” he said.

“Major airlines are also supporting this important safety initiative and have recognised the value in working collaboratively as part of a regional approach that will, ultimately, contribute to global action.”

The trial will see long haul flights in the airspace managed by Airservices—which covers 11% of the world's surface, tracked by satellite-based positioning technology called Automatic Dependant Surveillance—Contract (ADS-C).

Implementation will be carefully monitored and performance data will be used to inform ongoing international efforts to develop global standards and comprehensive solutions for future aircraft tracking solutions.

Both the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) have announced their endorsement of moves toward increased surveillance of aircraft in remote airspace in the future.