Malaysia Airlines (MAS) and Singapore Airlines (SIA) will implement global flight tracking using SITA OnAir's AIRCOM Flight Tracker, starting in mid-2015.
The system will be rolled-out across their entire fleet.
SITA made a conscious decision to focus only on a couple of airlines for the trials in order to bring the solution to the market quickly. In pursuit of this objective it worked closely with SIA and MAS, IHS Jane's learned. The trial period helped overcome challenges in collaboration and coordination between the two partners and in the two airlines identifying their specific requirements.
While SITA is in talks with other airlines in the region, the decision to identify Asian carriers was a natural corollary to the events in the region, particularly the March 2014 disappearance of MH370.
"Asia-Pacific is a hot-bed for flight tracking with an interesting terrain and vast oceanic space," said an official in the Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation, adding that "regulators are coming out with guidelines, talking to airlines about the capabilities to spark interest".
Following the MH370 incident, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA - the Indian regulator) was quick to issue guidance for real-time tracking of aircraft. Operators were asked to use onboard Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS)/Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Broadcast (ADS-B).
For now, SIA is rolling-out Flight Tracker only for its mainline fleet. It is not yet clear if the carrier will use the product for its subsidiaries SilkAir, Tigerair and Scoot, or for Vistara in which it has a 49% stake. "This could give them economies of scale," a technology official at one Asian carrier told IHS Jane's on condition of anonymity.
ICAO in February 2015 recommended that airlines use technologies of their choice to deliver a 15-minute aircraft tracking standard. The proposal is with ICAO member states for formal comment and it is expected to be adopted by September 2015.
MAS will use the ICAO standard for alerts, but SIA is believed to be adopting an even more stringent requirement as the airline has the option to configure AIRCOM Flight Tracker to intervals of less than 15 minutes.
The system is designed "so airlines have straightforward access to ATC-like tracking data," said Ian Dawkins, CEO of SITA OnAir, adding that AIRCOM Flight Tracker can be deployed "very quickly" for carriers that already use SITA ACARS messaging.
Competition is emerging from free sites such as Flightradar24, though SITA is quick to dismiss any comparisons given that the Flightradar solution relies mainly on ADS-B data submitted by volunteers. "The uniqueness of Flight Tracker combines aviation data sources from ATC radar, FANS, [and] ADS-B," said a SITA official.
AIRCOM Flight Tracker also has an alerting capability that allows an airline to configure reporting requirements to intervals shorter than 15 minutes. It also issues alerts if an aircraft deviates from a flight plan or fails to make contact with ATC. Flight Tracker would request emergency positioning reports if it identifies a flight that leaves its normal route for an unspecified reason. Dawkins said "we will waive charges for that reporting until the emergency ends".
Airlines have spent the past year evaluating potential solutions, while awaiting guidance from ICAO and regulators. "This year you will really start to see the speed at which airlines adopt flight tracking and Asia will be in the forefront," one airline official toldIHS Jane's . While the AIRCOM Flight Tracker is likely to evolve in coming years, SITA has a large potential customer base. It already serves about 400 airline customers operating a total of more than 14,000 aircraft, so it may be kept busy for some time.