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Why on earth would such an important device have an off button? I'd have thought that such devices would be integrated into the aircraft in such a way as to make it virtually impossible to access or disable. Also if these are almost throw away items, why not put a whole load of them on each aircraft and make them so that if it ends up in the sea it will float? 

Bill :)

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The determination of the location of aircraft over the oceans is a by product of having satellite connectivity and in regulatory terms it was not historically a safety feature. As I understand it they were initially used for diagnostic information on engines and measurement systems for fuel etc. The Malaysian plane that went missing, MH370, definitely had its satellite system turned off and all other radio reporting ceased. The Secondary surveillance radar can also be turned off because it may be necessary if it is faulty since, like the satellite system, it has the capacity to jam the receivers for other users. This ability to turn them off is still likely to be necessary if air traffic control over the oceans ceases to use High Frequency radio altogether and satellite coms becomes mandatory mandatory.


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I don't know about aircraft, but ships have to have AIS, which transmits identity and position information on VHF, which can be read by other ships and port authorities in range. This can be switched off by the ship's crew. They also have a satellite AIS which is not accessible by the ship's crew and cannot be switched off by them.

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