Iridium proposes real-time airline cockpit monitoring
Posted: October 4, 2001

Illustration of Iridium constellation. Photo: Iridium
Iridium Satellite LLC announced this week that it has submitted a preliminary proposal to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other appropriate government organizations for a real-time cockpit voice and flight data monitoring capability utilizing its constellation of 66 low earth orbit satellites. The service, which would address national security concerns relating to aircraft safety and control, could be deployed quickly using commercial off-the-shelf components and the Iridium system.

"With existing systems, officials on the ground have only limited visibility into what is happening inside an aircraft in flight," said Dan Colussy, Iridium Satellite's chairman and an aviation industry veteran. "Using its global footprint and voice and data capabilities, combined with existing commercially-available equipment, Iridium gives ground personnel unrestricted access in real time to vital voice and data communications from the aircraft."

The current system, which captures information in cockpit voice and flight data recorders or ³black boxes² located on the aircraft, provides insight into the causes of a crash only after the fact and only if the recorders are found intact. Since the black boxes provide no information to ground control during flight, they cannot be used to intervene in the event of an emergency. Under Iridium's proposal, the voice and data signals captured by the cockpit voice and flight data recorders would also be transmitted via existing FAA-certified equipment to the Iridium satellite constellation and sent directly to secure FAA data centers for live monitoring.

The Iridium system, when coupled with other security enhancements currently under review, could have a profound impact on aircraft safety both through active use and as a deterrent.  Benefits of a real-time system include:

  • Ability to provide immediate response in the event of a medical, terrorist or other in-flight emergency.

  • Ability to initiate monitoring from the ground, the cockpit, automatically when flight parameters are breached or continuously as part of basic flight operations.

  • Ability to record continuously for full duration of flight.

  • Ability to initiate investigations in real time prior to recovery of cockpit voice and data recorders.

  • Ability to use accumulated data to enhance aircraft safety, operating performance and efficiency through more timely maintenance and repair.

Iridium Satellite LLC operates the only global system for voice and data solutions with complete coverage of the Earth (including oceans, airways and Polar Regions). Through a constellation of 66 low-earth orbiting (LEO) satellites operated by The Boeing Company, Iridium delivers essential communications services to and from remote areas where no other form of communication is available. The service is ideally suited for industrial applications such as aviation, defense/military, emergency services, maritime, mining, forestry, oil & gas and heavy construction. Iridium currently provides service to the U.S. Department of Defense under a multi-year contract.  Iridium works with 16 seasoned service partners to sell and support the service globally.