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2019-09-20 16:31:57

John Cox Special to USA TODAY

Published 10:03 AM EDT Sep 20, 2019

Question: Why are planes not equipped with continuous worldwide satellite tracking versus limited ground based radar tracking?                       

– Walter Winnitzki, Long Island, New York

Answer: Airplanes are being equipped to have continuous tracking. By January 2020, nearly all airliners will be equipped with transmitters that provide altitude, heading, ground speed and the aircraft's identification to controllers via satellite.

The process to equip airplanes has been underway for several years but modifying an entire fleet is a big, expensive and time-consuming process.

In the past, pilots made position reports to controllers via high-frequency radios, but this process was replaced by automatic reports sent via satellite communication (SATCOM). Now there is nearly continuous transmission of this data. 

Q: Do pilots have a camera that shows them when the front wheels are on the yellow/black line like at the gate?                 

–  Ronald, Vincennes, Indiana

A: No, most airplanes do not have cameras displaying the underside of the airplane. Pilots learn how to position the airplane precisely based on experience. 

That said, they're not completely blind: There are ground crew signalers or automated systems that tell the captain when the nose gear is in the proper place. Having the proper alignment is essential to fitting the loading bridge onto the door properly.

John Cox is a retired airline captain with US Airways and runs his own aviation safety consulting company, Safety Operating Systems. @usatoday
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