/ June 4, 2009

Would GPS have made a difference?

With the most recent airline tragedy still puzzling officials from around the globe, analysts in the U.S. are looking towards options that will make this type of occurrence easier to handle and even more rare. The possibility of replacing the relatively ancient radar systems with satellite controlled GPS devices is hardly a new topic as the U.S. government has been considering the switch for over a decade. In the past, the $35 billion initial investment caused the Federal Aviation Administration to drag their feet but the renewed concern over planes making the Trans-Atlantic, or worse, Pacific, flight might be enough to make them move more quickly.

With the radar in place now, the same system used during WWII, planes can only be tracked when they are within 200 miles of the coast, leaving them virtually alone as they cross vast expanses of water. With the proposed integration of GPS, not only would airlines be able to save valuable time and money currently spent on the necessarily indirect routes, but pilots would also benefit from improved notification of storms or other possible obstructions. Even if the GPS was unable to stop a plane from going down, the information it would transport back to air traffic controllers would be invaluable in determining where to look and what happened.

Many are questioning how it is possible that GPS systems are being used on a individual basis but still have not been incorporated into the world of aviation. Criticism before this week focused on wasted fuel and money but safety is now becoming the prime motivation for making the switch. While the accident did not involve an American airline, the possibility of wrongful death suits that could come out against AirFrance as they have in the past, may be enough for the U.S. to implement GPS systems sooner than anticipated.

Source: MSNBC, Associated Press

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