Iridium Proposes Real-time Cockpit Voice and Data Monitoring

 - October 4, 2007, 9:49 AM

Iridium Satellite LLC, the company that has emerged from the bankruptcy of the Motorola-led satellite communications consortium, last month submitted a proposal to the FAA outlining its idea for continuous, real-time broadcast of cockpit voice and flight data through its constellation of 66 low-earth-orbit satellites. The plan was suggested in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, in which hijackers seized control of and crashed four airliners. In the proposal, Iridium executives told the FAA that a system such as the one it envisions would address a national security concern by allowing ATC to provide immediate response in the event of a medical, terrorist or other in-flight emergency. “With existing systems, officials on the ground have only limited visibility into what is happening inside an aircraft in flight,” said Dan Colussy, Iridium Satellite chairman. “Using its global footprint and voice and data capabilities, combined with existing commercially available equipment, Iridium gives ground personnel unrestricted access in real time to vital voice and data communication from the aircraft.” As Iridium imagines the system operating, voice and flight-data signals captured by the CVR and FDR would also be transmitted to FAA data centers for live monitoring. Presumably, FAA personnel would monitor only the conversations of flights in which an aircraft had strayed from its course or from which a transponder distress signal had been received. It is not clear, however, whether pilots would support the notion of having their conversations from the time they strap into the cockpit broadcast to FAA command centers on the ground, or if the FAA would be willing to invest in the infrastructure needed to make such a concept reality.