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*Aireon CEO Don Thoma & Peter Kearney CEO of the IAA. Photograph: Liam Burke/Press22

The world’s first satellite-based air traffic surveillance system which will accurately pinpoint the location of any aircraft in distress is to be operated from Co Clare.

On Tuesday morning, the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) team at the North Atlantic Communications Centre in Ballyigirreen launched the global Aircraft Location and Emergency Response Tracking (ALERT) which can be accessed upon request to locate an aircraft in distress.

It will provide Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs), commercial aircraft operators/airlines, aviation regulators and search and rescue organisations the last known position of any aircraft globally.

Up to this launch, 70% of the earth’s radar was not monitored through conventional ground radar surveillance, all aircraft equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS) can now be tracked via Aireon ALERT.

“We are launching a truly revolutionary service,” CEO of the IAA, Peter Kearney stated. “The benefits it offers to the aviation service and passengers are truly historic”. Speaking at their Newmarket-on-Fergus facility which employs 30 people, Kearney added, “Whether planes are flying over Sydney, Shanghai, the North Pole or North Dakota they will be tracked by this system and we will do it for free”. He said Ballygirreen as been “at the centre of transatlantic aviation since 1936” and pledged to continue investment there, they spent €30m on this system. “We are truly going global,” he concluded.

To date, stakeholders have registered for the service from sixty different countries. The majority of those to sign up so far are commercial aircraft operators/airlines and ANSPs. Sean Patrick, General Manager of the Ballygirreen centre was confident they would have a “one hundred percent increase by next year.” He stated, “We will have polar to polar complete global coverage”.

When requested, the data provided by Aireon ALERT will be a map of the last 15 minutes of flight, with one plot per minute and a 4-dimensional report including altitude, latitude, longitude and time information. Based on the situation, additional tracking information may also be provided.

Don Thoma, CEO of Aireon who flew in from Washington DC for the launch believed they have “ushered in a new era of aviation safety”. “Air travel is the mode of safe mass transportation, emergency aviation situations have and will continue to arise, we are providing solutions to better respond to these situations”. He confirmed the service would be operated 365 days a year from Co Clare.

Aireon ALERT will be made available as a free service to suitable groups that register. “When an emergency situation occurs we will have this information available, we felt it was very important to make this information available for free to groups that need it and not make money off it, there is not a business case for it, there is a moral obligation for us,” Thoma added.

Five years ago a Malaysian Airlines aircraft disappeared over the Indian Ocean. Remains of an Air France aircraft, which went missing in 2009 on route from Brazil to France, was only found after two years of searching the Atlantic. Aireon ALERT aims to prevent such disasters, “The impact it will have, we will see the aircraft and provide the information in real-time. There are still issues where malicious people may be able to turn off the system,” Don Thoma warned.

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