Why Do We Still Lose Planes?

Since the disappearance of flight 370 I have been considering how to sound outraged and concerned, rather than bossy and on a sales pitch.  I was a panelist at the Satellite 2104 conference in Washington, DC this week, and I cringe each time the news reports another speculation on flight 370.

A Boeing 777 costs around $300 million and can carry +300 people per flight.  Since airlines work these planes hard on long-haul routes, call it one flight per day, 40 weeks per year (maintenance), we can extrapolate that there will be 12,000 people per year flying on that plane.  I am picking up on the long-haul routes because that is where aircraft can lose radar contact.

With that value kind of asset at stake, and that many lives on board, why would an airline NOT track the plane?  There is a tracking device that costs under $3,000 (with an FAA-approved antenna), that can be installed on an aircraft that will track the plan and for a couple hundred dollars a month provide a web-enabled mapping system so you can see the plane anywhere it goes.  It is not as comprehensive as the forthcoming Aerion system running over iridium, but it will let the airline know where their aircraft and passengers are at all times.  If the device stops sending alerts, as in flight 370, the airline knows where it was last.  That means recover/rescue missions can be deployed to the location, not this scatter-shot search now ongoing on Southeast Asia.  This was also the case with Air France flight 447, having vanished and a wide-area search engaged to locate it.  Was there no learning from that tragedy?  Am I the only one thinking about this?

How do I know this system works?  East Coast Satellite Communications has a client that is successfully using this very system to track their small aircraft flying around the Caribbean.  The system works, it works well and it is low cost.

As I start to reach out to airlines to impress upon them the incredible value of using this system, I hope that the ‘not knowing’ and the immense search of flight 370 will give them reason to add this lightweight device to each long-haul plane in their fleets so we can avoid this kind of tragedy in the future. Let’s be clear: this system will not tell us what happened.  But it will tell us where the plane last was.

And that really needs to be a solid reason to bring these systems on board.

Thanks for reading.