Thousands of flights in and out of New Zealand fly through
radar black-spots relying only on scheduled long-range radio
calls to track their position, each year.
A spokesman for Airways, the state-owned enterprise
responsible for managing New Zealand's 30 million sq km of
airspace, said only 60 per cent of flights leaving the
country were tracked to their final destination by satellite,
the rest relying on radio contact to report their position.
"At the moment, it's either via radio or via what we call
data link and that's what goes through the satellites," head
of Auckland operations Tim Boyle said.
Individual aircraft had to opt into the data link system,
whereby they would transmit their location data around every
However, "if the aircraft chooses not to effectively enter
into that contract then we don't actually get any data back
from Immersat at all," Mr Boyle said.
If data link updates were missed and long range radio contact
could not be met, Airways had no way of knowing where an
aircraft was, he said.
An aircraft leaving New Zealand for Los Angles would be
tracked by radar out to a 321km radius where it would then
enter a radar black-spot, Mr Boyle said.
It would then be picked up by radar around 240km from Nadi,
Fiji, before flying through another black-spot until it
reached American airspace.
"There's large areas of the Oceanic region which have no
radar coverage....if we're talking about surveilling an
aircraft, there's lots of areas we can't surveil at the
moment in the world."
A spokesman from the UK satellite company Inmarsat, which
plotted the final position of MH370, revealed there was no
mandate for flights from New Zealand to transmit location
Inmarsat senior vice president of external affairs Chris
McLaughlin told Radio New Zealand yesterday that one of the
company's satellites continued to pick up a series of hourly
'pings' from MH370's Classic Aero unit, establishing that it
continued to fly for at least five hours after it had left
"If you think of the Inmarsat satellite network as like a
cellular phone network then the box, the Classic Aero, is the
handset and then the services, like the ACARS [aircraft
communications addressing and reporting system] that have
been talked about and the voice and the other data are just
like apps on a phone.
"Effectively the apps were turned off but the box remained on
the network," he said.
Unfortunately the operator of the aircraft had not elected
for it to transmit location data, Mr McLaughlin said.
"There's no, believe it or not, mandate to do so, other than
over the North Atlantic route and so for many hours, planes
flying from New Zealand and Australia are not necessarily
reporting their position, certainly with some airlines."
An Air New Zealand spokesman declined to comment on how the
airline's aircraft were tracked.
How MH370 was tracked
* The flight continued to transmit hourly 'pings', similar to
a cellphone connecting with a cell tower.
* The pings were compared to data from similar aircraft and
the Doppler effect was used to establish a flight line.
* While the tracking system was not precise, it could be
narrowed down to a approximate area where the plane would
have ran out of fuel.
* Uncertainty over weather conditions and whether the plane
glided or dropped straight has influenced the size of the