June 4, 2009

Experts: Use GPS Technology To Track Airline Flights

The recent loss of Air France Flight 477 and its 228 passengers over the Atlantic has many experts questioning why GPS systems are not standard in all planes.

"The technology's there - we've had this stuff for 15 years and little's happened," Michael Boyd, a Colorado-based airline analyst, told the Associated Press. "My BlackBerry can be used to track me, so why can't we do it with planes?"

Airline tracking currently relies on the use of radar, which can only track planes within 200 miles of land.

According to the AP, US officials have considered using a GPS network since the 1990s, and some carriers, such as Southwest, currently use the system to track their planes and help make quicker landings to conserve fuel.

However, the cost of a national GPS system to track airline flights would be about $35 billion. Ray LaHood, US Transportation Secretary, said such a project would be among the Federal Aviation Administration's top priorities in the Obama administration.

"It's a crude system they're using now," Robert Poole, an aviation expert with the free market-oriented Reason Foundation, told the AP. "For 100 dollars, you can run down and buy a GPS system, put it in your car and know exactly where you are. But planes don't have it."

"If a plane ditches and there are survivors, you may not be able to get to it fast enough," he said. "And if an airplane was hijacked in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, we wouldn't know until it pops up somewhere else."

Although some European and Asian countries are transitioning toward using a GPS-based system for flights, other countries, such as Brazil, where Air France Flight 477 took off from Sunday, have fallen behind on implementing the technology.

Even though it has been reported that an electrical failure caused the destruction of Air France Flight 477, which would have shut off any type of GPS technology, experts say GPS would have still allowed them to determine where the failure took place.

"The point is if we have GPS to monitor airplanes, could it save lives?" Boyd said. "The answer is clearly yes."


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