A company that uses cutting-edge technology to track icebergs off Newfoundland has been involved in searching the remote southern Indian Ocean for whatever became of Malaysian Airlines MH370.
Two of the planes in the search were modified by St. John’s-based Provincial Aerospace, which, among other surveillance missions, monitors ice in Canada — particularly at this time of year when spectacular icebergs and massive icepacks can be seen above the Grand Banks.
Looking for debris in the Malaysian Airlines search is more challenging than the work Provincial Aerospace's crews usually do with their specially modified Beechcraft Super King Air 200 aircraft, although the technology onboard is the same.
"You're literally looking for a needle in a haystack. It is a very, very big ocean," company manager Stephen Green said of the Malaysian Airlines search.
"You have planes flying all over the place down there, and you're looking for that needle. If something is floating on the ocean, it will take time but they'll pretty much find it."
From illegal fishing to drug smuggling
Provincial Aerospace's infrared-enabled technology has been adapted for other purposes around the world, from chasing drug smugglers to catching ships that are illegally fishing to locating vessels with illegal immigrants.
"This is capable of tracking pretty well anything that moves on the ocean, from mammals to fishing gear, boats of all sorts and sizes — and we have icebergs of course," said radar operator Colin Curtis.
This year, Provincial Aerospace has found a typical array of icebergs but significantly more pack ice, the dense ice that can give the appearance of being a white, icy landform.
"The pack ice is more than we've seen in about 20 years. The icebergs, probably not so much as we've seen in 20 years, but there's a lot out there," Green said.
Green said Provincial Aerospace has been able to parlay the geographic challenges of working in a cold ocean environment to its advantage.
"Out here in the North Atlantic, you have to be innovative and you have to think on your feet, given our harsh environment," he said in an interview.
"The things that we have managed to put on aircraft is one of the reasons for our success. Because if it works here, it will pretty much work anywhere in the world."
Provincial Aerospace has modified military aircraft for more than a dozen countries.