Aviation has always been a big part of my life, through my parents career paths and other family members. Once graduated I hope to have a career within aviation and so I’m keen to find out how my interest in aviation could be linked to remote sensing.

It was early March this year a missing aircraft dominated world news, this was surreal. With an average of 8 million people traveling in our skies everyday (International Air Transport Association, 2014) we assume flying is safe means of transport and so this was a shocking headline to wake up to and grasping worldwide attention.

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 15.06.13

Figure 1: Malaysia Airlines aircraft. (Source: Malaysia Airlines, 2014).


Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 (Figure 1 above) heading for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur was recorded to have gone missing somewhere in the Indian Ocean. This revelation came from the British satellite company Immarsat (see Figure 2, for Immarsat satellite). The ongoing search for the missing aircraft has been conducted by numerous international bodies (BBC, 2014); and several countries have resorted to satellite imagery to find any sign of the whereabouts of MH370; as the ‘black boxes’ which send out impulses will have unfortunately now ran out of battery as they only last up to 3 weeks.

Figure 2: Immarsat satellite. (Source: Immarsat, 2014)

Figure 2: Immarsat satellite. (Source: Immarsat, 2014)

According to the BBC (2014), debris was spotted 1850 km off the coast of Australia in the Indian Ocean, in order to determine whether or not this debris was part of the aircraft, Australia’s Defense Imagery and Geospatial Organisation (ADIGO) carried out analysis. Figure 3 below highlights the low spatial resolution of this image, and shows how difficult it would be to determine the origin of the object.  A French satellite also recorded debris in the Indian Ocean, however this was in fact 2300km southwest of Perth. The French satellite used radar echoes rather than an image, and therefore these echoes were sent to ADIGO to determine the location and conduct any necessary search within the vicinity. This difference in location could have been due to ocean currents and the date the images or echoes were taken, this was one of the major difficulties with the search as the debris was thought to be under the influence of ocean currents. The search is still ongoing as it was reported that neither of these objects nor any other debris spotted by other satellites were related to MH370 (BBC, 2014).

Figure 3: Australian satellite image, shows object approximately 24m in size in the Indian Ocean. (Source: BBC, 2014)

Figure 3: Australian satellite image, shows object approximately 24m in size in the Indian Ocean. (Source: BBC, 2014)

It should be noted that remote sensing is not always conducted using satellites, any aerial image can be categorized as remote sensing (Curran, 1985), and so as airborne searches for MH370 were being conducted on a daily basis, it could be said that the search has utilized multiple forms of remote sensing and has indeed showed me how my two interests can be interlinked, yet under such unfortunate circumstances.



BBC. (2014). MH370 search resumes in Indian Ocean. [Online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-26662641 (Accessed: 24 October 2014)

Curran, P. J. (1985). Principles of remote sensing, United Kingdom: Longman Incorporated.

Immarsat. (2014). Our satellites. [Online] Available at: http://www.inmarsat.com/about-us/our-satellites/ (Accessed: 24 October, 2014)

International Air Transport Association. (2014). New Year’s Day 2014 Marks 100 Years of Commercial Aviation. [Press Release]. [Accessed:  24 October 2014] Available from: http://www.iata.org/pressroom/pr/Pages/2013-12-30-01.aspx

Malaysia Airlines. (2014). Our story. [Online] Available at: http://www.malaysiaairlines.com/uk/en/corporate-info/our_story/about-us.html (Accessed: 24 October 2014)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s