Flights in oceanic areas are unable to be tracked using traditional radar as this form of surveillance relies on ground-based sites.
Since June 2015 all flights across the Pacific Ocean between Australia, New Zealand and the United States are being more frequently tracked by air traffic controllers using existing satellite-based communications equipment called Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Contract (ADS-C).
Aircraft are now tracked every 14 minutes, which is less than half the previous tracking interval of once every 30-40 minutes, meeting the intent of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) recommendation of tracking oceanic flights every 15 minutes or less.
Aircraft automatically report their exact position using ADS-C technology. The increase in reporting frequency allows air traffic controllers to track an aircraft’s position and predict its next position with greater accuracy.
This information also allows controllers to observe and react to any unusual flight behaviour and notify search and rescue agencies earlier if necessary.
In the event of an abnormal situation arises, the reporting rate automatically increases to every five minutes. Air traffic controllers are also able to set the rate to near real-time for individual aircraft if required.
Should search and rescue services be required, the increased reporting frequency means a search area is reduced by over 50 per cent, reducing down from approximately a 417 kilometre radius to a 185 kilometre radius.