- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 2, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A small Louisiana company says it’s working toward federal approval of satellite GPS technology to provide second-by-second tracking of airplanes anywhere in the world.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s next-generation air traffic control technology uses ground-based tracking stations small enough that they’re mounted on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

Systems using only satellites are faster, cannot be blocked by mountains and other geographical features, and can track planes over oceans where ground-based stations cannot reach, Globalstar Inc. CEO Jay Monroe said Wednesday.

Real-time tracking surfaced as an issue after controllers lost contact with Malaysian Air’s Flight 370 bound for Beijing on March 8. The jetliner’s data communications systems, called the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, had been turned off, Malaysian officials have said.

It used the sort of transmitter that will be required by 2020 on all flights in U.S.-controlled airspace.

Satellite-based systems should become the standard, the Virginia-based Flight Safety Foundation said Tuesday.

“Given existing technology, we simply should not be losing contact with aircraft for unknown reasons,” Kenneth Hylander, the foundation’s acting president and CEO, said in a news release.

Monroe said his publicly held Covington, La.-based satellite GPS company and Technologies Inc. of Anchorage, Alaska, have such a system, using a smartphone-sized antenna on top of an airplane to beam signals for the FAA-approved technology, called Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast or ADS-B, to Globalstar’s 24-satellite network.

“We’re delivering a message every second. … It takes only a couple-hundred milliseconds to deliver that information from the plane to the ground,” Monroe said. “The result is that you always know within just a few feet where that plane is.”

The companies hope to have FAA approval in a year to 18 months, he said.

“We’ve been working on it in the last couple of years,” he said. “We’ve been running tests and those tests have been 100 percent successful.”

As a regulatory agency the FAA cannot comment about whether it is considering technology under development, a spokesman said.

Aireon LLC of McLean, Va., will have ADS-B receivers on 66 satellites scheduled to begin launching in the second quarter of 2015 and to be fully deployed in the second half of 2017, said Iridium Communications Inc. CEO Matthew J. Desch. Aireon was created as a subsidiary of Iridium, but air traffic control agencies in Canada, Denmark, Ireland and Italy are investing heavily in it and eventually will own nearly three-quarters of the stock, Desch said. Portugal and the United Kingdom have signed on as future customers, he said.

Although Aireon will get second-by-second data, it will guarantee updates at least every 10 to 15 seconds to start with, Desch said.

“In the worst-case scenario, you’ll know the exact position of an airplane within 15 seconds,” he said. He said that should let controllers space planes 30 miles apart in areas without radar rather than the current 60-mile limit.