FAA Taps Aireon To Monitor 737 MAX Fleet

Boeing 737 MAX 8
Credit: Boeing

WASHINGTON—The FAA is leveraging its wide-ranging flight data tracking and analysis contract with Aireon to monitor Boeing 737 MAX operations as part of the model’s return to service, using a pair of products to get real-time flight alerts.

Under a one-year agreement announced in November 2020, the FAA has access to global air traffic data from Aireon’s space-based Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) network. Among the possible applications discussed as part of the deal: airspace safety analysis, accident investigations, and search and rescue of missing aircraft.  

The 737 MAX tracking project, revealed publicly during a recent Aviation Week webinar, is among the first specific applications developed under the partnership. 

“This is allowing them to specifically look at the ICAO codes for just that population of aircraft,” Aireon chief technology officer Vincent Capezzuto said on the webinar.  

The project, rolled out in late January, focuses on event detection, including variables such as vertical rates, and specific alerts, such as a traffic collision and avoidance system advisories, generated from the flight deck. 

Aireon is using two products launched in fall 2020 to meet the FAA’s need. The data is delivered via AireonSTREAM, an API that can be tailored to pull subsets of data based on specific parameters, such as a sub-fleet or section of airspace, the company said. Alerting and reporting is done through AireonINSIGHTS. 

The agency can use a situational display to monitor flights in real-time, Capezzuto said. Daily reports are also produced that drill down to specific serial numbers. 

The FAA did not respond to a request for comment on the project. 

While Aireon and the FAA did not have a formal agreement before last fall, the company’s work has influenced the agency’s decision making before. The FAA relied on surveillance data provided by Aireon to ground the 737 MAX fleet in March 2019 following the second of two 737-8 accidents in less than five months.  

The FAA compared the fight path and vertical rates of the two accident flights—Lion Air Flight 610 on Oct. 28, 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 10, 2019—and saw similarities in their fight paths. Investigators later determined that inadvertent nose-down inputs triggered by erroneous data were behind each flight’s erratic altitude deviations and unrecoverable dives. 

The 737 MAX fleet was grounded for 21 months before being cleared by the FAA in late November 2020 following changes Boeing made to the aircraft and pilot training. Other regulators have followed, and affected airlines are slowly re-integrating the aircraft into their fleets, with the first European operations slated to start later in February. 

Sean Broderick

Senior Air Transport & Safety Editor Sean Broderick covers aviation safety, MRO, and the airline business from Aviation Week Network's Washington, D.C. office.


1 Comment
I don't see why FAA could not access data as needed not spend money on real time monitoring.

I have been involved in those data swamps, no one looks at it unless there is an issue. They don't have the time and its a waste.

Just setup an alert system for airlines to send that data if requested. You can set parameters for them to do so.

The scary one right now is the 787 beset with massive quality control issues that are clearly out of hand.

But that is not an air data item, its doing the work the FAA is paid to on the ground where they clearly are not monitoring the Certification's specs being met at the factory.

Dickson can't be canned any too soon. We need a reset.