Nº 3 2014 > Aviation
Real-time monitoring of flight data
ITU to develop international standards
An “Expert Dialogue on Real-time Monitoring of Flight Data, including the Black Box – the Need for International Standards in the Age of Cloud Computing and Big Data”, took place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on 26-27 May 2014, facilitated by ITU and hosted by Malaysia’s Ministry of Communications and Multimedia. This followed the complex investigation into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 which departed Kuala Lumpur on 8 March 2014 with 239 people on board. Underlining the difficulties surrounding the search for the missing aircraft, Ahmad Shabery Cheek, Malaysia’s Minister of Communications and Multimedia, speaking at the World Telecommunication Development Conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, had called upon ITU to develop leading-edge standards to facilitate the transmission of flight data in real time, noting that locating and searching for the black box should be a thing of the past, especially with the advent of cloud computing in the age of big data.
“I believe that data from aircraft, including from the black box could be continuously transmitted and stored in data centres on the ground. I urge ITU to work with industry to develop a better way to constantly monitor flight data and what is happening in the cockpit. With the advancements in ICT today, we should be able to retrieve and analyse these data without necessarily locating the black box. I believe that this simple change may have brought a different outcome today. In this context, I cannot help but note that whilst communications technologies have evolved drastically in the past five years, the story of the black box remains unchanged from 30 years ago.
Responding to this call, ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun I. Touré said, “I would like to express my heartfelt sympathy and concern for the uncertainty surrounding the fate of so many people on board MH370.We must ensure that aircraft can be tracked in real time so that such an unprecedented and tragic incident does not occur again. ITU is committed to work on the standards that will take advantage of big data and state-of-the-art cloud computing.”
Proposed actions from the Kuala Lumpur meeting
The May meeting brought together experts from AirAsia, Axiata Group, Boeing, Celcom, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, the Department of Civil Aviation Malaysia, Deutsche Lufthansa, the German Aerospace Center (DLR), Embraer, EUROCONTROL, Flight Focus, FLYHT Aerospace Solutions, Globalstar, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Federation of Airline Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA), IMPACT, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Iridium, ITU, L-3 Communications, Lufthansa Systems, Malaysia Airlines, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia Malaysia, Panasonic Avionics, Rolls-Royce, SAP, SITA, SkyTrac Systems, Star Navigation Systems, Syphax Airlines, Teledyne Controls, Telnet, Thales, and Thales Alenia Space. They all called on ITU to allocate the necessary spectrum as soon as possible to meet emerging aviation needs. This includes spectrum for satellite and radio services used for safety of life aviation services. The experts encouraged ITU to continue its work on spectrum requirements for flight tracking and real-time flight data monitoring, with a view to making appropriate allocations at world radiocommunication conferences, including the upcoming conference in 2015.
Participants considered that ICAO and ITU need to facilitate an open, multidisciplinary, multistakeholder and performance-based approach towards establishing international standards for the use of an aviation cloud for real-time monitoring of flight data. They invited the organizations present at the meeting to collaborate (according to their respective expertise, roles and responsibilities) to avoid duplication of efforts and to make the voices of all relevant stakeholders heard.
The experts identified the following long-term tasks for ITU and ICAO. First, ICAO should investigate the operational needs for real-time monitoring of flight data and identify minimum requirements. ICAO should identify the operational concepts, including communications requirements, and work with ITU to determine the necessary telecommunication standards, including spectrum requirements. ICAO and ITU should then work together with industry to estimate the associated cost implications and develop appropriate business models to ensure cost-effectiveness. ICAO and ITU should identify the standards, policies and regulations that need to be developed. This would include studying requirements for the protection of flight data, information security, privacy, appropriate use of flight data, and data ownership, in the context of using an aviation cloud for real-time monitoring of flight data. A road map will be needed to ensure that these tasks are implemented.
The experts urged ITU and ICAO to collaborate closely (within their remits) and facilitate participation by all interested parties.
“Information and communication technologies are instrumental to the safe and efficient operation of tens of thousands of flights each day,” said Malcolm Johnson, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau. “The challenge is to bring the capabilities of the rapidly advancing telecommunication and ICT technology to the aviation sector in a coherent and coordinated manner. ITU has a long history of harmonizing the use of the radio spectrum and developing international telecommunication/ICT standards and is offering to bring this competence to assist aviation, in partnership with ICAO, to consider alternative ways of using technology such as cloud computing and big data, to provide these solutions.”
Nancy Graham, Director of ICAO’s Air Navigation Bureau, said that an aircraft tracking task force will address the near-term needs for flight tracking and that ICAO in partnership with the task force will develop guidance material based on available flight tracking best practices. She called for the global tracking of airline flights as a priority to provide early notice of and response to abnormal flight behaviour.
Participants took note of the preliminary report on MH370 by the Chief Inspector of Air Accidents, Ministry of Transport, Malaysia, dated 9 April 2014, and its recommendation that ICAO examine the safety benefits of introducing a standard for real-time tracking of commercial aircraft.
The experts welcomed the consensus reached at ICAO’s Special Meeting on Global Flight Tracking, held on 12-13 May 2014 in Montréal, on the near-term priority to track airline flights irrespective of their global location or destination. Given that flight tracking technical solutions are — or soon will be — available on a majority of aircraft on transoceanic routes, they stressed the need for international standards, policies and regulations, and harmonized spectrum, to ensure worldwide interoperability and compatibility, as well as to optimize costs through economies of scale.