The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has been a source of public fascination since the plane disappeared on March 8. The media has advanced countless theories of what happened to the aircraft, ranging from mechanical problems to terrorism.

Last week, the New York Times revealed that airlines have the technology to track planes such as Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, but have chosen not to use it. The Times explained that the same satellite technology that airlines use to provide WiFi to passengers could be used to track planes and the black box recorders they carry in case of crash. If this technology had been utilized, investigators would have had the necessary tools to find the remnants of the plane immediately. Investigators would then be able to use the recordings captured by the black box, which is designed to survive a crash, to finally determine what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. According to Mark Rosenker, the former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, this technology would significantly improve search and rescue operation. Mr. Rosenker told the Times that “[t]he technology is out there, but it’s just a question of political will to recognize this is important[.] What hasn’t improved is that we still have to wait to recover those boxes to begin accident investigations. Precious days are wasted.”

Airlines have refused to implement this technology because it is too expensive and plane crashes are too infrequent of an occurrence. The Federal Aviation Administration (F.A.A.) has also declined to issue regulations requiring black box recording devices to transmit data by satellite in real time. The F.A.A. has argued that such regulations are unrealistic and would be prohibitively costly to airlines.

While the F.A.A.’s rationale is not without merit, the recent events surrounding Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 should encourage the agency to reexamine the policy. Investigators have traveled around the world, attempting to find traces of the plane based on satellite images. However, more than two weeks have passed since the plane went missing, and the families of the passengers and crew are without answers. Therefore, it is at least worth exploring technology that had the potential to find Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 immediately after it vanished from the sky.


— Daniel Rheiner

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One Response to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Should Cause the F.A.A. to Reconsider its Policy on Satellite Tracking of Airplanes

  1. Parker says:

    The FAA already tracks domestic flights with stunning precision, and in U.S. airspace, NORAD can track any plane even if it’s transponder goes dark. So, for the vast majority of domestic flights, satellite tracking is really not necessary.

    Long-haul overseas flights, like MH370, are a different thing altogether, since the most hazardous portion of their route is through uncontrolled international airspace. Despite the expense, I doubt it would be that cost-prohibitive to craft a regulation to require satellite tracking only of aircraft entering or leaving U.S.-controlled airspace.

    That may be the ticket to preventing another MH370.

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