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Aircraft off the radar in this age puzzles experts

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New York, March 13 :

Can a modern aircraft with a plethora of advanced features just vanish into thin air?

Hard to believe but the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is a puzzle that is growing even more complex.

Air Traffic Control radar
Air Traffic Control radar

“This is a very unusual event,” Sid McGuirk, an associate professor of air traffic management at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida was quoted as saying.

“It is highly unusual for an aircraft at an altitude – which, at least according to the press, this aircraft was – to drop off the radar,” McGuirk added.

Radar facilities are based on land and each one has a range of about 300 km.

So passenger jets on transoceanic flights do go off the radar map for a period of time but that does not mean nobody is keeping tabs on them.

“The flight crews use combinations of high-frequency (HF) radio, satellite-based voice communication and text-data networks to report to Air Traffic Controller (ATC) the exact time, position and flight level when the crossing begins,” explained Emily McGee of the Flight Safety Foundation.

Commercial jets can also fall off the map briefly when they fly at low altitudes because radar relies on line-of-sight contact.

Mountains and other landforms can block the signals going to and from the closest radar stations, as can the curvature of the earth.

As a result, low-flying jets can be tough to track continuously, especially if their transponders are disabled – a fact that terrorists took advantage of on 9/11, said a report in LiveScience.

TIME TO LEAVE ‘BLACKBOX’ FO ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY

At a time when a massive search is on to find the flight data recorder, or ‘black box,’ to know what happened to the missing Malaysia Airlines, experts believe it is right time to move over the good old ‘black box’ and adopt latest technology.

An advanced technology already exists that would allow the missing flight’s condition, engine performance, cockpit conversations and other data to be streamed real-time back to the airline’s headquarters or manufacturer.

Some aviation experts feel it is the right time to put this technology into place.

“Such a solution is long overdue, considering the state of technology today and the overriding importance of providing timely data to investigators,” Alan Diehl, a former accident investigator, was quoted as saying in a Wall Street Journal report.

This technology would help pinpoint what went wrong more quickly than a months-long search for the black box.

Others note that modern aircraft produce terabytes of data that would overwhelm satellite transmission and digital storage devices back home.

“It is technically feasible but the question is whether it is worth the cost,” said John Hansman, director of the International Centre for Air Transportation at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

After the 2009 Air France crash, European aviation regulators supported the goal of planes being able to beam down safety data.

Some aircraft already transmit their position through satellite links rather than relying on ground-based radar scans, the report added.   (IANS)