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Wireless Qualcomm unveils airliner security technology

Wireless: Teams With Globalstar to Provide Real Time Cockpit Monitoring

San Diego-based Qualcomm Inc. has recast aircraft communications technology as an aircraft security device.

Qualcomm electronics and Globalstar satellites can work hand-in-hand to give ground controllers real-time information about what is happening on board commercial flights, company Chairman and CEO Irwin M. Jacobs told the media and analysts last week.

The company’s Medium Data Rate Satellite Communications System, abbreviated as MDSS, could transmit an airplane’s position and other flight data as well as live voice and video from the cabin or cockpit.

Jacobs said the system could let someone on the ground monitor the aircraft and quickly see an unusual change of course or something unexpected on board.

Alternately, computers could monitor the data and look for “unusual circumstances,” Jacobs suggested.

By contrast, data from flight recorders is only available after the flight, he said.

As Jacobs spoke in a Lindbergh Field hangar, his audience followed the progress of a business jet outfitted with the system as it left the airport, doubled back over the Pacific, then traversed the southern parts of San Diego, Imperial and Yuma counties.

Onlookers watched as computers plotted the plane’s course against a map, and took in video and audio from the cabin. Ground technicians panned cameras within the jet. Jacob spoke with his airborne employees, who sent and received text messages and digital photos with earthbound employees.

The performance was not entirely flawless. At times the audience could not hear audio from the aircraft.

Qualcomm makes the airborne system’s hardware and software, which transmits via an aerodynamic, 8-inch antenna mounted on a jet’s exterior.

Jacobs declined to give a price for the system. However, he said the number fit in with the “reduced financial circumstances” of airlines.

Jacobs said Qualcomm originally planned to market the equipment as a way to provide Internet service to corporate jet and commercial airline passengers.

As planned, signals would move over the Globalstar satellite constellation. Qualcomm has a minority interest in Globalstar.

Since they orbit at a relatively low altitude, Globalstar’s 48 satellites don’t stay in the same spot over the Earth. As they come and go out of range, they have to “hand off” calls to other satellites. The system accomplishes this using Qualcomm’s Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology, which is also used in wireless phones.

Jacobs told the crowd the Federal Aviation Administration is considering the system’s electronics for possible approval.

Qualcomm promotional materials even suggest the system could be used to override pilot controls and land an aircraft from the ground.

Qualcomm executives plan to demonstrate the technology again next week near Washington, D.C.

The system has at least one competitor. Virginia-based Iridium Satellite LLC proposed a similar use for its service in early October.


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