Several high-profile accidents, in particular flight AF447 and flight MH370, have highlighted shortcomings in the way flights are currently tracked.
Aeroplanes flying over land with high density of population are permanently tracked by air traffic control (ATC) systems. But the situation differs for aeroplanes flying over oceanic airspace or over more remote regions such as the poles where such ATC systems may not be available. The frequency of position reports by pilots or aircraft to ATC in remote and oceanic airspace is not systematic, it varies at certain intervals, depending on the density of the airspace and the procedures in place.
In order to improve the positioning of aeroplanes in oceanic and remote areas, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has adopted international standards for:
the location of aircraft and underwater recorders using underwater beacons
the tracking of aircraft
a location system for aircraft in distress
and the fast recovery of data from flight recorders.
These standards will come into force gradually between 2018 and 2021.
In Europe, the rules governing the operations of public transport aircraft were amended last year to introduce similar requirements. Precisely, they address the flight recorders and their underwater beacons, request the introduction of an additional underwater locating device directly attached to the aircraft, and aim at improving aircraft tracking and the location of aircraft in distress. They will also gradually enter into force between 2018 and 2021 for new aeroplanes. The following lines describe in detail what is coming.
EASA Executive Director