$10 Upgrade Could Have Tracked Missing Malaysian Jet

Wednesday, 19 Mar 2014 10:19 PM

By Joe Schaeffer

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A simple computer upgrade that would have cost $10 per plane would have allowed Malaysia Airlines to track the jet whose mysterious disappearance has captured the world’s attention over the past two weeks.

A satellite industry official told the Washington Post that the upgrade, which the airline declined to purchase, would have enabled investigators to track the direction, speed, and altitude of the airliner.

The upgrade, for a system known as Swift, would have continued to transmit flight data by satellite even after the plane’s transponder and Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System signals went dead, the Post reports.

The satellite industry official, who was not named by the Post, compared Swift to a cellphone that sends data to a satellite. It is able to transmit information on engine performance, fuel consumption, speed, altitude, and direction even with ACARS switched off, he said.

“When ACARS is turned off, Swift continues on,” he said. “If you configure Swift to track engine data, that data will be streamed off the plane. It continues to be powered up while the aircraft is powered up.”

A computer upgrade to a similar system enabled investigators to locate in five days an Air France jet that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009, the Post reports. Search crews were able to focus on a roughly 40-mile-wide area because of the enhanced tracking ability.

The search area for Flight 370 now covers about 2.24 million square nautical miles of the Indian Ocean, the Post reports. With the upgrade, the search radius could have been similarly reduced.

“For $10, you could have told within half an hour’s flying time where the plane would have gone,” a source told the Telegraph.

A Malaysia Airlines official would not directly address the question of why the company had declined to purchase the upgrade.

But when asked by the Post why an airline might choose not to buy an application that sells for a relatively modest cost, Zainul Zawawi, Malaysia Airlines' area vice president for North American operations, said: “Every pound on an aircraft is fuel consumed. As in all matters, it always comes down to cost.”

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