SkyTrac’s Overdue Notifications an invaluable tool
July 9, 2014, Cheshire, U.K. - Increasing concern with flight tracking technology, flight tracking regulations and operator tracking practices are at the forefront of issues facing today’s aviation industry. International aviation organizations are currently working to find the most effective way of regulating flight tracking, while many operators are looking for immediate, cost effective tracking solutions. Simultaneously, tracking shortfalls are clearly a hot topic for the traveling public and technology offers a variety of solutions.
By Stacy Bradshaw
SkyTrac Systems has been in the aircraft tracking business for over 25 years and has solutions that are used on a daily basis for tracking aircraft. Active tracking by dedicated flight-following crews is one tried and tested solution, but it can be time-intensive and is prone to human error and oversight. In another approach, SkyTrac is encouraging their clients to use passive tracking by exploiting “Overdue Notifications” – a simple feature that uses machine-to-machine (M2M) communication technology and supervisory control techniques to their fullest advantage. This approach reduces the cost and human error associated with traditional flight following techniques; it relies on connectivity link status to alert flight following personnel to a possibly serious situation. Because the Overdue Notification approach is automated, a single supervisor can oversee a large fleet of aircraft with ease.
Overdue Notifications are enabled through SkyTrac’s web-based flight tracking and system management interface (SkyWeb). The feature is simple to set up and use. It automatically alerts assigned individuals via email and uses color codes and pop-up windows on flight following software when an aircraft has missed a predefined number of GPS position reports. The feature does not require any input from the aircrew, the simple absence of consecutive position reports acts as a trigger event to alert ground crews of a possibly serious situation in the air. This simple feature can dramatically enhance situational awareness of global flight operations and radically increase search and rescue response time in worst case scenarios. It has been used to great effect in recent incidents and accidents.
SkyTrac’s Overdue Notification is transmitted as soon as SkyWeb detects an absence of position reports while the aircraft is still in flight configuration. Once this trigger event occurs SkyWeb emails alert notifications, informing ground crews of the situation as well as the last known position of the aircraft. Color-coded pop-up notifications are also displayed on SkyWeb. The trigger event is independent of aircrew action and the alert notification is sent automatically. This seamless M2M process creates a critical and cost-effective safety net for aviation operations, utilizing supervisory control techniques to enhance safety of flight and situational awareness. If the aircraft is equipped with SkyTrac’s cockpit interface, the flight following crew can use SkyWeb to connect with the aircraft cockpit via text or via satellite phone.
System reliability is extremely high – SkyTrac uses the Iridium constellation so there are no gaps in coverage, no altitude restrictions, no weather restrictions, or line of sight considerations.
In addition to emails, SkyWeb uses color coded visual cues to draw attention to the effected aircraft (overdue aircraft icons, caption boxes and FlightBar information are color coded orange).
Ground crews can customize overdue notification settings. The user can specify the time delay from when a position report was due to an aircraft showing as overdue. The alert emails can be sent once, or continually sent until a position is received to increase the likelihood that notifications are acknowledged and ground crews are aware of the status.
Overdue Notifications have been successful in alerting ground crews in multiple incidents and accidents.
One recent accident involved an aircraft that crashed in a very remote location and illustrates the value of the Overdue Notification feature. Due to circumstances that are still unclear, the air crew were unable to make a distress call or inform ground crews of an in-flight emergency prior to impact. Because the Overdue Notification feature was enabled, SkyWeb automatically alerted ground crews there was a potential problem within minutes of the actual accident. After no response was received from the aircraft, a search and rescue effort was launched immediately. SkyWeb pinpointed the last known location of the aircraft and search and rescue crews were able to proceed directly to the accident site and found the crash site with minimal lost time. Without the Overdue Notification feature, no immediate search and rescue effort would have been launched and it may have taken days or weeks to locate the crash site as the search area would have been immense.
“Improving safety of flight is always top of our priority list,” stated SkyTrac CEO, Stephen Sorocky. “This relatively small SkyWeb feature is a simple, easy and quick way to enhance safety – it provides operators one more tool that has the distinct potential to save lives.”