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August 30th, 2016

Panasonic Avionics Says No Missing Planes At Sea Ever Again

For more than two years, many remain bewildered that the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-370 remains a mystery.

According to the Nikkei Aisan Review infosite, the aerospace unit of Japan's Panasonic has developed a new, satellite-based tracking application that can ensure no planes ever go missing at sea again. Called AirMap, the technology is offered as a software update to the firm's aircraft connectivity products and is able to keep airlines in constant contact with their aircraft through satellite technology. The existing radar network, which lost track of MH-370, can only trace planes that are within 150 miles of shore. 

Airlines can install AirMap via FlightLink, which offers the full GPS coverage of the Iridium satellite network, or the eXConnect in-flight broadband connectivity system covering nearly the entire globe. AirMap offers alert triggers that can be customized to the needs of each airline and can be set to send updates on the status of aircraft to control centers as frequently as once per minute. Severe turbulence, deviation from flight path, and sudden altitude drop can trigger alerts. If ground control receives an alert or location data indicating something is amiss, airlines can work quickly to establish contact with the aircraft through text or voice message, while receiving continuous updates on the location of the plane.

Currently FlightLink and eXConnect cover a combined 1,500 aircraft, with the company aiming to have AirMap installed in over 3,500 aircraft over the short term. Malaysia's AirAsia and Alaskan regional carrier Peninsula Airways are among the airlines that have opted for AirMap upgrades, with the former looking to complete installation in the entire fleet by the second quarter of 2017. Panasonic says an additional two to three carriers are expected to start using FlightLink with AirMap in the fall. 

Matt de Ris, the manager of aviation programs at Panasonic Avionics, reported that with both eXConnect and FlightLink using the AirMap product, the airline has a requirement—if [the aircraft] hasn't been reporting for more than 15 minutes—to go and try and reach that aircraft. The airline is watching the system and is aided by the AirMap alerting system. The company's mission control center that is staffed 24/7/365 would be fielding calls from the airline if an alert is received and there is no burden on the pilots.