Imagine if Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 had been equipped with technology able to track the jet’s flight path anywhere in the world in real-time. Well that technology exists, and it could have helped search teams looking for the missing plane.
"If a system similar to ours had been on the (Flight 370), we would have the capability to know where it was within 300 feet during its entire flight until electric power ceased aboard the aircraft for whatever reason," said Skip Nelson, President ADS-B Technologies.
The technology is called ADS-B or automatic, dependent, surveillance -- broadcast and it's been used in Alaska for more than a decade.
"It’s been around since the late 1990s," Nelson said. "Alaska pioneered what became the first successful large-scale program; we called it the Alaska Region Capstone Program.
That program, Nelson said, equipped the majority of the small air carriers in Alaska with the first ADS-B systems.
ADS-B has the capability to send real-time information to air traffic controllers and pilots in the cockpit through the use of satellites and ground stations.
The system allows for critical flight information like altitude, position, speed and plane identification to be transmitted once every second.
While this kind of technology isn't currently required by the FAA, there are changes on the horizon.
"The FAA has already said that every airline in the United States will have ADS-B on board by 2020," said Nelson. "That's going to happen; that's a mandate; that's in the law."
As for what these systems would cost, Nelson says the equipment costs as much as a coffee pot on an airplane.
"The recurring costs, data costs -- we're talking $120, $160 from Seattle to Tokyo, Narita," Nelson said. "One second reporting, 300-foot accuracy all the way across."
Outside of the U.S. the ADS-B system is currently being used in Fiji, China and other parts of the world. While the system shows promise, it’s up to each country’s aviation regulatory agency or state-run organization to provide final approval on whether or not the system is required.
ADS-B Technologies currently has roughly 600 ground stations around the United States; those ground stations can transmit if the plane is within 200 miles. ADS-B is backed by Global Star, a satellite provider for this technology to track planes anywhere in the world.