TODAY   |  March 29, 2014

Case of missing plane could lead to better GPS tracking

The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet has fostered a discussion about possible changes with GPS tracking on planes, and whether or not it would be possible for airplanes to be monitored in real time by data downloads. TODAY’s Erica Hill interviews former NTSB investigator Greg Feith.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> greg feith is a former investigator with the ntsb. greg, good morning.

>> good morning, erica .

>> so, we just had bill set the scene there for us. they're searching an area the size of new mexico, and the results at this point seem to be, as he said, sort of the same old results. but based on what you're seeing as a former investigator, the number of sightings and the description of some of the things that have been found, does this tell you in any way that they could, perhaps, be closer?

>> one of the things about the earlier pictures, erica , is the fact that there's a piece that's rectangular. there's no size to it, but it doesn't look like anything that would be on a boeing 777 . there is nothing that i know of, in talking to all of my sources, that there's anything orange on that airplane. typically, the life rafts, the life vests and all that kind of thing are all yellow, even the emergency exit slides. so, you know, this is cautious optimism, you know. while we do have a debris field there, we're not really sure that any of this came from the aircraft.

>> the fact that we're now searching this new area based on radar data that was available earlier on, there was some recalculations done, should we have been searching in this area sooner, do you think?

>> well, that's always going to be debated, i think, erica , but the problem was is that the information that we had very early on in this event, if you will, is that we didn't have very good latitude and longitude data, we didn't have very good altitude data originally. they had to go back and recalculate. boeing did a lot of mathematic exercises to try and get a time-distance history. that's why they recalculated the speed and found that the airplane had gone faster coming back over the mainland, which changed the fuel burn, and of course, you have to take into account winds aloft and things like that.

>> there's so much focus here on finding this plane, for obvious reasons, but also, the black box is really important to a lot of people. it's going to stop sending out pings pretty soon. could this, do you think, change the way we communicate with planes, maybe locators being put on planes or even streaming data or streaming black box data from here on out?

>> i think that, absolutely, this is, you know, in conjunction with air france 447, this is going to be another event that accelerates not only the process of getting gps tracking on airplanes, on all airplanes worldwide, so that you have ground-to-ground, basically, tracking of the airplane, but of course, it will foster another discussion about at least doing downloads, data downloads from the flight data recorder . i doubt that this cockpit voice recorder will be included in that, only because there is a lot of privacy issues when you talk about cockpit voice recorders, but at least the data recorder will be another discussion point.

>> all right, getting that conversation started is sometimes half the battle. greg feith , appreciate your insight, as always. thank you.