Most of us who carry smartphones can find the nearest store or restaurant within seconds thanks to GPS. Our interconnected world also means much of what we do can be tracked. Yet early Saturday morning a Boeing 777 vanished over the South China Sea. Vietnamese authorities thought they may have spotted a door from the air, but ships searching the area couldn’t find it in the water. And oil slicks found in the sea that were thought to have come from the plane turned out not to be.

“The technology exists, but it just hasn’t been employed by most planes,” says Flyht director Richard Hayden, to Kevin Newman Live. Flyht is a Canadian company with a portable satellite communications device that allows airlines to monitor and manage operations anywhere in the world and in real time. If a plane is in an emergency, the system automatically streams vital data, normally secured in the black box. Black boxes don’t broadcast any of the information. Currently they just store it for later retrieval.

According to Hayden, planes are currently equipped with an emergency locator transmitter, which starts working when the plane hits the water and is designed to survive impact. Authorities haven’t determined the signal from the transmitter, which runs on batteries.

“The technology of our company uses GPS signal…Any device whether it’s a cellphone or airplane will be able to have its location determined,” he says. “The accuracy depends on the chip and the satellite. Military accuracies are extremely precise.”

Scott Brenner is a former spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration and says where the Malaysia flight went down there was no radar coverage.

“The pilots are just flying to a checkpoint and when they get to it they confirm so air traffic control can follow them,” Brenner says to Kevin Newman Live. He says one theory may be the pilot turned the plane when they got beyond radar coverage and then crashed.

After an Air France plane slammed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009 and it took 23 months to find the black box, the aviation community started looking at how to avoid the situation in the future. The plane was found more than three kilometres under the surface and the black box couldn’t be tracked. The black box doesn’t have a GPS because the plane already has so much technology that allows it to be tracked.

Planes are increasingly using satellites and ground-based systems to provide Wi-Fi access to passengers. Safety data could piggyback on these signals, according to a Wall Street Journal article.

Brenner says the black box is an incredible piece of technology, which would work better if it could communicate 100 per cent of the time. However, the costs of doing something like this would be tremendous. Carriers debated upgrading the technology after public pressure from the Air France crash, but balked at the cost. They would also have to pay for enhanced satellite connections.

“This accident is unprecedented, frankly. They should have been able to have an idea where it is,” says Hayden, who disagrees that price is a factor. “If the aircraft went into the water intact, we (our technology) would have broadcast right away.”

With files from Christiane MacKenzie and Sannah Choi