The European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency (GSA) presented two exciting Galileo ‘search and rescue’ (SAR) projects - GRICAS and HELIOS - at the Paris International Air Show in June.
On 8 March 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a passenger flight, disappeared between Kuala Lumpur International Airport and its destination, Beijing Airport in China. The disappearance triggered one of the largest and most expensive multinational searches for a missing aircraft in history. The flight recorder could not be located and so it was not possible immediately to carry out an analysis of what went wrong and what could be done to ensure it never happened again.
Before MH370 vanished it did not send out a distress signal, there was no indication of poor weather and there was no warning of a technical problem; it was a mystery. MH370 came four years after the loss of Air France flight AF477 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris – again, there was no warning signal.
Watch this: Galileo Search and Rescue
Following the incident, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) realised that they needed to do something to improve the distress signalling and adopted new recommendations for a Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System (GADSS). The European Union adopted an initiative in 2015 to improve the location of distressed aircraft for the swift rescue of passengers and rapid analysis to determine what went wrong and to identify safety improvements.
GSA steps in
ICAO recommendations outlined the end to be achieved, while leaving the technological solutions to industry. Autonomous distress tracking means that an aircraft can transmit a signal automatically without the intervention of crew – who are focussed on recovery in an emergency. The device must also be autonomous of the aircraft’s electricity or other aircraft systems. There must also be a way for the device to alert SAR (Search and Rescue) control centres.
Through the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Development programme, the GSA funded projects proposing technical solutions based on satellite support through the Galileo SAR service.
At the air show, Orolia, a lead partner in the HELIOS project, presented its GADSS compliant ‘Distress Tracking - Emergency Locator Transmitter’ (ELT-DT), which allows a beacon to automatically send a distress signal providing an accurate position when it detects unusual activity, such as a precipitous drop in altitude. Oralio CEO Jean-Yves Courtois said: “The ability to autonomously track aircraft in distress with continuous location data is an industry breakthrough that will deliver long-lasting benefits for the travelling public.”
Also watch: How the Galileo SAR service works
The GRICAS (Galileo Search-And-Rescue Return-Link Implementation for a better Civil Aviation Safety) system, like HELIOS, makes use of medium-altitude earth orbiting search and rescue systems (Cospas-Sarsat) which are supported by global navigation satellite systems, such as Galileo.
“GRICAS has developed two main products - firstly the ground station, MEOLUT, localising the distress signals; the second is next generation beacons that will equip the aircrafts to meet the ICAO requirements, allowing the aircraft to be localised and rescued in distress situations,” said Michel Monnerat, manager of the Location Infrastructure and Security Department at Thales Alenia Space.
All new commercial aircraft will have to meet ICAO requirements by 2021.
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