Flight Tracking

by Sheila Kvilvang
Air Transportation Services Dispatcher
Minnesota Department of Transportation – Aviation
Published in Midwest Flyer Magazine December 2022/January 2023 Digital Issue

It wasn’t long ago that the only reliable way for anyone outside of the Air Traffic Control community to confirm an aircraft had landed was for the pilot to call via telephone to report their arrival. This often led to varying degrees of anxiety for friends, family members, or coworkers of the pilot or passengers on the flight. Recent technological advancements with flight tracking applications have significantly improved our ability to keep tabs on a flight of interest.

Modern flight tracking applications have various uses. For example, imagine that you are waiting to board a flight out of Hibbing, Minnesota on a snowy day. Using a flight tracking application on your cell phone, you check the status of the flight in progress and observe “your” aircraft turn around and return to Minneapolis. Unlike the rest of the passengers, you do not need to wait for a public announcement from the airport staff and make your way to the ticket counter or bank of phones to be the first to be reaccommodated.

Or imagine that you are flying your personal aircraft from Minnesota to a meeting in western New York when an unexpected fog bank in Pennsylvania requires a change to your routing and arrival time. You send a text message via your cockpit-installed tracking application to your meeting hosts to update them on your diversion plan and ETA. You also know friends and family are watching your flight progress and can send you a text to reassure you they are aware of your location.

Both above are examples of technology that is in use today using a modern flight tracking application.

Flight tracking applications help communicate quickly – or even automatically – which can benefit family, friends, and associates who can easily track your location as you fly. This kind of information provides peace of mind. It also can help save time by allowing others to reschedule meetings and travel arrangements in a timely manner.

People whose jobs involve tracking general aviation flights also find flight tracking applications critical to their ability to provide important communications to passengers and pilots, and enhance flight safety, operational performance, record keeping and statistical reporting. Some powerful features included with some modern flight tracking applications include:
• * Texting communication between flight tracker and cockpit during flight (non-critical phase).
• * Real-time latitude and longitude availability to assist in rapid emergency response.
• * Historical information to fill in missing data or export to operational reports.
• * Current weather overlays on displays.
• * 3D replay of the flight.
• * Multiple search options to find flights.
• * GPS accuracy.
• * Ability to view delays, cancellations, and factors contributing to possible irregular operations.
• * Route analyzers for flight planning.
• * Ability to identify aircraft type.

The number and types of flight tracking applications continue to grow. Finding the tracking tool best suited to your individual needs will involve research and trial of different options. Use your favorite internet search engine to explore “flight tracking.” As you review the different applications, attention should be paid to which functions you can access for free, paid subscriptions that open access to additional functions, the look of the application, and which applications require the purchase and installation of specialized equipment in the aircraft.

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