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Boeing 737 Max 8 that crash caught on satellite data that could aid investigation

Boeing 737 Max 8 that crash caught on satellite data that could aid investigation
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A new global satellite network capable of tracking planes from space captured the flight path of the Boeing Co. 737 Max that crashed Sunday in Ethiopia and the data has been shared with investigative agencies, including some that have decided to ground the jet.

Canada’s Transport Minister Marc Garneau cited unspecified satellite tracking data on Wednesday as the reason the country has joined other nations in grounding the 737 Max models. Aireon is the only such service available. It was formed by Iridium Communications Inc. and Nav Canada, Canada’s air-traffic provider.

A new global satellite network capable of tracking planes from space captured the flight path of the Boeing Co. 737 Max that crashed Sunday in Ethiopia and the data has been shared with investigative agencies, including some that have decided to ground the jet.  (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

The path of the Ethiopian Airlines flight suggest the accident may be linked with a Lion Air crash involving the same 737 Max model on Oct 29, Garneau said. He said the is not conclusive but that it was enough to order the safety measures. “There are some similarities between the two profiles,” he said.

Aireon LLC, which is about to launch its new flight-tracking service in coming weeks after successfully placing 66 satellites in orbit, captured the Ethiopian Airlines flight until shortly before it crashed, a company spokeswoman said.

The data was provided to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration, as well as “several European aviation authorities and various African aviation authorities,” said Jessie Hillenbrand of Aireon.

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The FAA has so far said it has no information to justify grounding the Max while most of the rest of the world has halted flights by the plane following the second fatal crash within five months.

The tracking of aircraft from space was made possible by technology designed to move away from traditional radar tracking. By the end of 2020, most aircraft in the U.S. will have to be equipped with devices that use GPS to calculate a plane’s position and then broadcast that and other information about the flight.

That data is what Aireon relied on to track the Ethiopian Airlines flight. A ground station operated by tracking firm FlightRadar24 captured only data from the first two minutes of the flight before it apparently went out of range.

Aireon has agreements to sell its data to countries including Canada and the U.K. to track flights over the ocean, where ground-based radar doesn’t reach and planes must be kept far apart.

In addition to helping air-traffic agencies monitor flights over oceans and in countries without radar, Aireon has said the data may also assist accident investigations and help locate aircraft that crash in remote areas. It took about two years to find an Air France plane that went down in the Atlantic in 2009, but Aireon’s data would have limited the search area to a mile or less.
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