Airlines must take steps to stop pilots deactivating communications systems as well as improving tracking following the disappearance of Malaysia Air Flight 370, the head of the world’s biggest international airline said.
Any universal adoption of measures that will pinpoint a plane throughout a flight is useless without moves to stop cockpit crews overriding the technology, Emirates President Tim Clark said in an interview.
“What we have to do is ensure that aircraft systems cannot be interfered with, even by pilots,” Clark said in Qatar, where he’s attending the annual meeting of the International Air Transport Association. “Once you’ve done that, as long as you have that system working all the time, why bother to increase the tracking capability? It’s already there.”
IATA, which is leading the airline industry’s response to the disappearance of the Malaysian jet, said today that a draft report on enhanced tracking options will be delivered to the International Civil Aviation Organization in September. While the missing flight wasn’t set up to constantly transmit its position via satellite, current pilot protocols dictate that such technology could still be switched off from the cockpit because of the risk of fire from airborne electrical systems.
Clark said that the ability to disable tracking systems should be limited to engineers on the ground. In the case of MH370, the Boeing Co. 777’s radar transponder and Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System appear to have been switched off before it made an unscheduled turn south, less than an hour into a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Data exchanges with an Inmarsat Plc satellite, including a burst when fuel exhaustion seems to have interrupted the power supply, provide the only real clue to where the jet went down.
“If we can prevent any kind of interdiction and system disablement in flight by anybody or anything, that’s all you need to do,” Clark said. “As long as you’ve got the satellite communications working and the Acars systems working, that provides sufficient data for anything to be tracked. If you disable that then you will have problems.”
Kevin Hiatt, IATA’s senior vice president for safety and flight operations, said today he’s aware that the issue of pilot override capabilities needs to be addressed.
“It’s an interesting topic and one that will be discussed by the aircraft-tracking task force,” Hiatt said in response to questions during a debate at the the IATA AGM in Doha.
Foolproof tracking technology couldn’t prevent a rogue pilot from crashing an aircraft, but would narrow down the search for flight recorders that investigators seek to recover from all lost planes in order to shed light on their fate.
An underwater hunt for wreckage from the Malaysian Airline System Bhd. jet has been halted for about three months to allow the drafting of a more accurate map of the ocean floor in a region about 1,670 kilometers (1,000 miles) northwest of Perth.
Emirates is the world’s biggest operator of wide-body aircraft, with a fleet built around Airbus Group NV A380 superjumbos and 777s like the Malaysian plane presumed to have crashed into the Indian Ocean with 239 people on board.
“If you introduce new systems on board an aeroplane that are enhancing that tracking capability, they can also be disabled by people who know what they’re doing,” Clark said. “Clearly that happened on MH370.”
— With assistance from Elliott Gotkine in Tel Aviv.
To contact the reporters on this story: Christopher Jasper in London at [email protected]; Andrea Rothman in Toulouse at [email protected] To contact the editors responsible for this story: Benedikt Kammel at [email protected]