'Minor' modifications could aid future search and rescue effort

Minor, inexpensive modifications could make a significant difference in flight tracking in oceanic and remote low density airspace.
The European ‘OPTIMI’ study – undertaken by the SESAR Joint Undertaking (SJU) following the loss of Air France Flight 447 in June 2009 – identified a range of short and medium term solutions that could lead to a significant improvement in monitoring air traffic.
The OPTIMI or Oceanic Position Tracking Improvement and Monitoring Initiative was conducted as a collaborative project with air navigation service providers, airlines, manufacturers, satellite communications providers and other entities involved in the aviation sector at the European Atlantic airspace.
The consortium carrying out the project on behalf of the SJU recommended the equipage and use of Future Air Navigation System products (FANS 1/A) for Oceanic Area Control Centres and aircraft flying oceanic areas; this will cover in particular ADS-C ‘snapshots’ exchanged between the ground and the aircraft via a satellite data link system called CPDLC – essentially, text messaging between controller and pilot.
At the same time, improvements of procedures should be envisaged with the automatic transmission of the aircraft position in oceanic and remote areas in an interval of 15 minutes. An automatic transmission of the position should also be triggered whenever a deviation from the planned route is detected.
“The OPTIMI study shows that the technical elements to improve aircraft tracking are already available. It is now important to make full use of this technology by proposing the necessary regulatory changes,” said José Calvo Fresno, SJU chief of regulatory affairs.
Although the increase in the cost of ATC communications due to OPTIMI would be very limited, it was found possible to further optimise this cost along the service provision chain in the oceanic areas. The consortium also called on rescue and area control centres to jointly develop protocols for notifications and interventions in emergency situations.
Further research is also needed regarding technologies and procedures for the downloading of aircraft safety critical data to the ground on an event-triggered basis, together with the possibility of creating a central repository to manage this information.
Interim findings from the AF447 accident investigation revealed that;
• It took five days to find the first floating wreckage,
• The last position report made by the crew was at 01:35 GMT and the last automated report was at 02:10, but the first alerts to start a search and rescue effort were raised between 08:00 and 08:30,
• The crew made three attempts to contact the Dakar OACC using FANS1/A but had not succeeded by the time the aircraft was lost.
A ICAO High Level Safety Conference identified issues surrounding coordination between Atlantico and Dakar FIRs as contributing to the excessive delay in alerting the search and rescue (SAR) services to the disappearance of AF447.
This was attributed to ‘regional practices’ diverging from ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPS) and specifically related to the handover from Atlantico FIR to Dakar FIR and the consequent failure of Dakar area control centre to notice the missing aircraft or alert search and rescue of its disappearance.