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How is Aircraft Tracking Done?

written by: Raunekk•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 3/10/2010

As the number of airplanes increases in the sky, the chances of accidents and crashes also increases. However, airplanes are considered the safest means for traveling. So what is it that makes airplanes so safe? Who controls the traffic up there?

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    Introduction

    Several thousands of airplanes around the world use both national and international air routes everyday. In the past few years, the number of aircraft registrations has also seen a consistent upsurge. Also, with both day and night air travel becoming easy and rampant day after day, it sometimes make people wonder as to why there are no traffic jams or clashes up there, given the fact that there aren’t any traffic cops in the sky. This is thanks to air traffic tracking systems.

    Phenomenal increases in air traffic, together with unpredictable weather conditions, leads to the need for real time tracking and monitoring systems that manage and control air traffic 24x7. With this being impossible for a single person or a solo team, every airline has put together its own team to monitor air traffic. Each team employs several tracking systems to make sure that there is not even the smallest mistake, which could lead to the biggest disaster.

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    Radar Based Flight Tracking

    Of all techniques, the radar based flight tracking system is the most common as well as the most conventional method use worldwide. The system is also known as ground based tracking or radio frequency tracking. This method utilizes the age-old and time tested fundamental of radar waves for tracking and communication.

    For this, ground based stations, better known as Air Traffic Control or ATC towers, signal radio emit waves at a predetermined radio frequency. These emitted waves return after tapping the airplane. Even airplanes are equipped with systems to emit a code, which is then used to identify flight details like location and altitude. The landing and take-off time of each airplane is also determined by both pilots and ground-based stations using this system. The distance of the plane from the ground is calculated based on the time duration between the release and reception of the frequency from the base. This technique is perfect in almost every respect, except for hurdles like expansive mountains, forests, and oceans that make the journey of radio waves a bit difficult.

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    Using Internet to Track Air Traffic

    The Internet, a brilliant innovation, has seeped into the aviation industry as well. Based on Google Earth, various computer software programs have been created for real time flight tracking. The method employs three dimensional illustrations of the Earth and position mapping algorithms. This results in visual-representations of flight location, path, position and several other requirements such as origin, destination, arrival-departure, speed, and altitude.

    There’s also a second method which uses the Internet to track flights that is more realistic. Many websites offer real-time flight tracking details. This method is comparatively easy. One just needs to enter all the details related to the aircraft and a simple click will reveal all information complete with a virtual path.

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    Satellites

    The base of all these systems is the collection of satellites in space, which have changed the whole system of airplane and air traffic tracking. The satellite tracking method overcomes several hurdles that are faced by ATCs. Satellite based tracking systems utilize satellite transmitters, receptors, decoders, 2-way communication antennas and microprocessors, working in sync with satellite stations. The paramount features of this technique are exhaustive graphic images, contour analysis, etc., which provide flawless flight tracking. The laser tracking technique, a comparatively new technique, uses stereo imaging coupled with laser beam tracking. This method is not in full-fledged use at present but could turn out to be a consistent system in coming times.

    All said and done, an excellent tracking technique remains the one which employs the best of all the worlds. One such technique, as per the experts, is the union of satellite-based tracking and GPS (global positioning system). This technique determines the geographical position of the flight using GPS when the flight is ready to land. The role of the satellite is to exhibit a vivid light right from the launch point to the destination displaying real-time position of the plane. In order to provide continual details, this page needs to be re-loaded continuously. This method makes for easy calculation of delays. It is predicted that this will result in a highly sophisticated method that will give accurate and trusted flight details.

    All of the above mentioned methods are used to track airplanes, maintain coordination between them, and thus control air traffic. It is because of these air traffic tracking systems that airplanes are known as the safest option for traveling. Moreover, the rising unpredictability of nature due to global warming and threats due to increased terrorism also demand sound air traffic control systems for the utmost safety of airplanes and passengers.

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    References

    "Airline Flight Tracking: Real Time Flight Tracking Techniques," Buzzle.com, http://www.buzzle.com/articles/airline-flight-tracking-real-time-flight-tracking-techniques.html