Eye on the sky

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Why real-time aircraft tracking doesn't pay.

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Flight MH370 was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on 8 March 2014 when all trace of the plane disappeared. Yet to this day, the reason 239 people lost their lives remains a mystery.

Flight recorders (black boxes) provide valuable information, but if a plane’s location is unknown recovery attempts can cost huge sums of money. This has raised calls for tracking to take place in real-time via satellites.

The technology is available. Canada’s FLYHT Aerospace Solutions, for example, offers a comprehensive system powered by the 66 satellites of the Iridium network.

But because black boxes are recovered in all but the rarest of occasions and the rate of 22 fatalities per one million flights is minuscule, political pressure is limited to countries associated with recent crashes.

Aviation regulation is also quite rigid. In the U.S., regulators must show that the costs of new safety equipment are offset by benefits, which typically means prevention of death – and recorders don’t impact that.

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