A constellation of satellites would provide data to air control on the ground.

By Jess McHugh
January 25, 2017
An aerial shot shows a view of North America.
Photo by: JTB Photo /UIG via Getty Images

For the first time, real-time flight tracking is coming to the North Pole.

Global air traffic surveillance company Aireon has signed a deal with Isavia, the Icelandic Air Navigation Service Provider, to conduct real-time aircraft tracking from space of an area of approximately 2 million square miles in the North Atlantic.

Current air traffic control uses on-the-ground radar to triangulate a plane's position, meaning locations are approximate and there is no coverage more than 150 miles from land, according to the BBC.

The new system from Aireon works by launching a series of satellites into space that can send updates of a commercial plane’s location every eight seconds. This technology lets traffic controllers trace more accurate locations of aircraft while also allowing for more direct routes of overseas flights.

Satellite aircraft tracking could also be useful in locating survivors of aircraft that disappeared from radar, such as the case of missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, as the system sends more frequent updates than the technology currently in use, according to a spokesperson from Aireon.

“It would be constant. It would be global. And you don’t need any ground-based infrastructure to run it,” Jessie Hillenbrand, director of marketing and public relations for Aireon, told Travel + Leisure. “We’re creating a safer environment by having an update sent every eight seconds.”

Using Aireon's space-based Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), the data sharing deal aims to improve safety and efficiency in an area extending 70 degrees to the North Pole.

The technology is currently in the data-testing phase, and the first launch happened January 14, putting the first 10 satellites of the constellation in place. The next launch is scheduled for April, and Aireon hopes the system will become operational by the second quarter of 2018, according to Hillenbrand.

“The benefits speak for themselves, and we are working closely with our North Atlantic neighbors,” Asgeir Palsson, the director of air navigation services at Isavia, said in a statement. “We anticipate optimizing the 160,000 flights that use our airspace every year.”