Now that the public chatter has died down, it's going to take leadership by IATA and pushing by governments to get airlines on board.
Airlines are pushing back against technological upgrades recommended by their own International Air Transport Association industry group as it seeks to prevent a repeat of the Malaysian Air Flight 370 disappearance.
Proposals drawn up after the loss of the Boeing Co. 777 without any knowledge of its last position or signs of wreckage have had a mixed response from airlines, which regard the 12- month timescale for implementation as burdensome, Tony Tyler, IATA’s chief executive officer, said today in Geneva.
“Our members took a very serious look at the recommendations,” Tyler said. “While they’re committed to improving, they could not fully endorse what would be practically unachievable for some. There’s no silver bullet.”
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Adoption within a year of performance criteria including the ability to track planes across their entire potential range is deemed unrealistic by some carriers, which argue that the response to MH370 requires more time and investigation, Tyler said. While airlines should assess the business case for upgrading equipment in the near term, for now they’ll continue to rely on existing systems, he added.
Aircraft tracking became a top priority for IATA — which represents 250 airlines — after the Malaysian Airline System Bhd. incident on March 8, in which the captain or another individual is thought to have disabled equipment indicating the 777’s position. The plane, carrying 227 passengers bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, then doubled back and is thought to have crashed into the Indian Ocean after running out of fuel.
The recommendations from IATA’s so-called Aircraft Tracking Task Force stop short of suggesting carriers should immediately invest in tamper-proof transponders, a measure that the report suggests is one for the next three years.
Instead, the study says, all aircraft should transmit information on their longitude, latitude, altitude and local time to permit four-dimensional tracking, which should be accurate to within at least 1 nautical mile and reported every 15 minutes — or more often in the event of an alert.
Transmissions wouldn’t be required where air traffic surveillance services are able to directly glean the required information or if airlines have contracts for the automatic downloading of data from aircraft at appropriate intervals. Communications protocols should also be improved, especially for those instances where a plane fails to report, IATA said.
IATA submitted the proposals to the United Nations-mandated International Civil Aviation Organization this week.
ICAO has set up a working group on aircraft tracking that is analyzing in-plane technology, air traffic control networks and search and rescue protocols with the aim of establishing a new Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System, or GADSS, based on an existing maritime body.
“The ball is now back in ICAO’s court,” Tyler said at the briefing on state of the industry, adding that the MH370 disappearance was “an extremely rare, if not unique, event.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Andrea Rothman in Toulouse at firstname.lastname@example.org; Simeon Bennett in Geneva at email@example.com. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Benedikt Kammel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Photo Credit: A member of staff at satellite communications company Inmarsat works in front of a screen showing subscribers using their service throughout the world, at their headquarters in London March 25, 2014. Andrew Winning / Reuters