Over the course of the last one week, ever since the the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, the existence of flight tracking websites like flightradar24.com and flightaware.com has gained a lot of attention. I’ll be honest, i’ve never heard of these sites before and while i do track my flights while flying, i use an App called FlightTrackPro which updates me on estimated flight departure and arrival times, and at most draws a line between point A and point B on a map to indicate where the flight would be heading to.
When MH370 went missing, and the world was looking for answers, these websites suddenly seemed like the most awesome invention in the world. Here you could see, at the touch of a button when MH370 took off, took turns, climbed up to 35,000 feet and subsequently disappeared from the screen. It was like you were seating at the Air Traffic Controller tower at Subang, and suddenly flight MH370 just vanishes from your radar screen.
Over the next few days, flightradar24 became one of my favourite websites to visit. With every twist of the investigation, the inner detective in me would load up the site in the hope of catching a rogue MH370 popping up somewhere along the route where it was supposed to travel. Yes, flightradar24 allows you to playback data from other days as well. How cool is that. For a minimal subscription fee, you could even get months and years worth of flight tracking data!
On Saturday, one week after the disappearance of MH370, the authorities conducting the investigation released information that MH370 was deliberately piloted across the Malaysian Peninsular, and satellite data had put the plane on two possible corridors, one in the Northwest of its last know position, as well as another on the Southwest towards the Indian Ocean. This got me thinking again, and with a lot of theories and possible explanations floating around, i decided to compile all this information down on the MH370 forums to see if combining all the information available, would it be possible to come up with a possible explanation as to where and what happened to MH370.
It is during this fact gathering process that i noticed something very disturbing. These sites, flightradar24 and flightaware, have so much of flight information on them, readily available to everyone who cares to look. Flight name, Route, Altitude, Speed, Squawk code and basically everything else you could possibly want to know about whats going on in the skies above you. The App version of flightradar24 even has an argumented reality feature that allows you to point your phone up into the sky and you’ll instantly know everything about planes that are flying above you!
You could track the exact route a flight is taking to its destination – in real time. Or you could go back a few days and study routes taken by any plane at any time. If that isn’t enough, you could also study the airspace of any area to ascertain when it would be busy or empty.
One of the reasons why when a plane is hijacked, it is usually done within a confined space and doesn’t really land very far as there is a need to be in constant contact with Air Traffic control. With the amount of planes sharing the same skies at any one time, it is almost impossible to fly a plane without guidance from a ground control crew. The possibilities that you would end up on the same altitude or on a cross flight path with another plane is extremely high.
With flight tacking websites like this however, it becomes a real possibility that in the right hands, and armed with enough information and training, it wouldn’t be too far fetched for someone to navigate a plane through the busy skies without any help from an Air Control tower. Turn off the ADS-B transponder and you can navigate the skies unnoticed (except from primary radar). It is my believe that in the wrong hands, this information can be abused and utilized in a malicious way.