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Rockwell Collins looks to join global aircraft tracking task force

(Reuters) - Rockwell Collins Inc, maker of a key communications system for jets, is interested in joining a task force on improving global airline tracking to prevent further disappearances of planes like Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, its chief executive said on Thursday.

Chief Executive Officer Kelly Ortberg said the avionics supplier had "a lot of value to add" to the task force planned by the International Air Transport Association that will look at ways to track airplanes and make recommendations.

The Malaysia Airlines flight disappeared from radar screens on March 8 with 239 people on board. On Thursday, Australian search authorities said footage taken by a deep-sea drone could help determine whether the lost jet ended up in a remote area of the Indian Ocean.

Last year, Rockwell acquired ARINC, a provider of aviation connectivity services including flight planning and high-speed data. ARINC developed the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS, designed to transmit maintenance data back to the ground. Data from the ACARS system indicated that the Malaysia Airlines jet had veered away from its planned path and led rescuers to search in the Indian Ocean.

"The industry is pledging to go figure out a way to make sure this never happens again," Ortberg said in an interview, referring to the disappearance of the Boeing jet.

Ortberg said the technology exists to improve plane tracking.

"We may have to write some software, we may have to do some different things--upgrade the airplane to implement this capability--but we don't need to invest in new technology," he said.

"With GPS satellites and connectivity, this is a solvable problem," Ortberg added.

The task force convened by IATA is expected to include airlines, aircraft and system makers and search and rescue experts, said IATA spokesman Perry Flint.

IATA has also said the task force would include the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency that sets air travel standards. ICAO is planning a special meeting May 12-13 at its Montreal headquarters to discuss airplane and satellite capabilities needed to track flights globally.

(Reporting by Karen Jacobs in Atlanta)

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