Thursday, June 4, 2009

Locating Flight 447

The disappearance of Air France Flight 447 and its 228 passengers over the Atlantic Ocean this week is a great tragedy. What is even more tragic is that a simple $300 device could have located the final (or last known location), aiding rescuers and emergency to get to the area of the crash site sooner. The Brazilian and French planes had to fly hundreds to square miles of open ocean looking for clues on the open waters.

Could this device* have helped us reach the crash site sooner?
(*Magellan Maestro 4350 pictured above - Any GPS device would suffice)

Today due to limitations of radar coverage, you are flying un-tracked over vast stretches of oceans, in the middle of the Atlantic on U.S.-European routes or over the pacific. Currently pilots resort to calling controllers with estimated positions every hour or so. The call-ins is again dependent on radio and radar coverage. Even though the aircraft is rigged with systems to send automatic messages to the home base, this does not include a simple lat-long coordinate information which can easily be gathered by installing a GPS chip along with other components on the plane with some simple software code written around it to send this information to the automatic data transmitter.

Even if an electrical failure disabled the GPS device, the last known location can be clearly established by establishing a flight path from the incremental GPS updates. This need to determine approximate location is imperative for crashes like the AF 447 or other air crashes over the ocean with limited radar coverage. I am positive that each aircraft on the planet can be fitted with this device for a total cost of less than a $1000 per install. A small price to pay for a lot to gain. I hope airlines and the FAA realize the urgency of this and implement this low cost system before the proposed costly overhaul of radar or satellite systems.

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