How Easy It Is To Lose a Plane in 2014

#Travel

Thu, Mar 13th, 2014 12:00 by capnasty NEWS

Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 has disappeared. Odd as it may sound, despite GPS trackers and all the technology of 2014, losing a plane is still quite possible. To help grasp just how difficult knowing where the plane might be, The Washington Post has put together this graph that gives a scaled comparison of the search area. Jordan Golson of Wired explains the issue further:

There's no radar tracking airliners over the ocean
It is a misconception that airline pilots are in constant communication with air traffic control, or that planes are constantly watched on radar. Once a plane is more than 100 or 150 miles from shore, radar no longer works. It simply doesn't have the range. (The specific distance from shore varies with the type of radar, the weather, and other factors.) At that point, civilian aircraft communicate largely by high-frequency radio. The flight crew checks in at fixed "reporting points" along the way, providing the plane's position, air speed, and altitude. It isn't uncommon to maintain radio silence between reporting points because cruising at 35,000 feet is typically uneventful. Some aircraft communication systems don't require pilots call in; flight management computers transmit the info via satellite link.

Although modern flight management systems use GPS for navigation, that only tells the airplane where it is -- it does not tell air traffic control where the plane is. It's a bit like taking your iPhone into the heart of the Mojave desert: Your GPS will tell you where you are, but you can't use Find My Phone because there's no cell coverage. Although it would be possible to stream data from an aircraft in real time via satellite, implementing such a system across the industry would cost billions of dollars, Smith said.

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