Covington company awaits FAA approval of plane tracking system - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Covington company awaits FAA approval of plane tracking system

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(COVINGTON, LA (WVUE) - Searchers in the Indian Ocean are tracking down new clues in their search for that missing Malaysia airliner, and as the search continues, a Covington company is certifying a product that they say will make such disappearances a things of the past.

Nearly a month into the search, there may be cause for optimism.

Hishammudin Hussein, Malaysia's acting transport minister said, "Ladies and gentlemen, the new developments over the last few hours has been the most promising lead we have had."

Ships have now detected two distinct sounds, and while 12 planes and 14 ships continue their search, a Covington businessman says it's time for change.

"Everyone is looking at what's happened, and they are stunned that a commercial airliner can flip a switch, turnoff a transponder, and fly invisible to another part of the world," said Barbee Ponder, an executive with Globalstar, a company that moved to the northshore in 2010 and has now pioneered a system that's no longer dependent  on ground-based tracking that failed in the Malaysia airlines disappearance.

Globalstar's communication system works off of 48 satellites circling the globe.

"We launch six at a time on Soyuz," said Ponder.

The system, designed in Covington, can track an aircraft even in a canyon. It's called "Alas" and is based on GPS and not World War II-era radar technology.

"There simply should not be Amelia Earhart-type mysteries anymore - not in the 21st century," said Ponder.

Signals are pumped out each second, revealing a plane's ID, speed, heading and altitude.

Though a tracking system like Globalstar's is not required in commercial aviation, it is being used by private aircraft owners, and it has been instrumental in a number of rescues.

Ponder recently tracked his own child, who was on a school trip to Yosemite Park in California.

"With extreme tracking, I knew where they were every two and a half minutes," said Ponder.

The company's tracking device for commercial aircraft could be placed in a discreet and tamper-proof location in a plane. It's now going through the FAA certification process.

Ponder said, "We hope for a successful solution in 18 months."

As the search continues for the missing Malaysian plane, Ponder predicts that with FAA approval, missing jetliners could soon be a thing of the past.

Searchers in the Indian ocean are now in a race against time because the black box's batteries run out in 30 days. Tomorrow is the one month anniversary of the Malaysia airliner's disappearance.

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