Coming soon: Minute-by-minute airplane tracking
MONTREAL, Canada - Minute-by-minute tracking of aircraft in distress is set to be introduced next year, airline officials said Wednesday, February 4, as the industry aims to prevent a repeat of the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370
An international aviation summit in Montreal gave strong backing to plans to monitor flights in real time, making it easier to pinpoint the location of planes lost at sea.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council is now expected to ratify the proposal in November, making it obligatory for all airlines starting in 2016.
"Global tracking will not prevent accidents," said ICAO chairman Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, but it will mean no more lost jets.
The plan was prompted by the disappearance of flight MH370 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in what remains one of history's great aviation mysteries.
The aircraft, with 239 people on board, has never been found, nearly a year on.
Currently, radar can track a plane but coverage is spotty and fades when aircraft are out at sea or they are flying below a certain altitude.
Under the new rules, airlines will be required to track their aircraft using a system that routinely gives their location at 15-minute intervals.
"When an airplane is in distress, the system will repeat the signal every minute," Aliu told a press conference. This would include any unexpected change in altitude or deviation from a flight path.
Thus, search and rescue officials would be able to more accurately pinpoint a flight's last known location within 6 nautical miles (11 kilometers).
According to officials, this measure is the quickest and easiest fix to a growing air safety concern – locating downed aircraft. "We can do it today and it's not expensive," said Nancy Graham, director of the ICAO's Air Navigation Bureau.
The head of the International Air Transport Association, which speaks for the airline industry, agreed. "A number of airlines are planning to improve now the ways of tracking their airplanes," IATA president Tony Tyler said.
Ejectable black boxes
Once a plane is found, and beyond rescue operations, it then becomes important to determine why it ran into trouble in order to try to avoid future disasters.
At the Montreal meeting due to wrap up Thursday, February 5, delegates agreed in principal on adding secondary ejectable floatable black boxes on all commercial jetliners, making them easier to retrieve in an air crash at sea.
The technology, which has already been approved for military aircraft, has not been used in civil aviation because up until a few years ago air accidents have mainly happened during take-off or landing. Black boxes are generally found easily on land.
But in recent years more and more passenger jets have crashed into the ocean raising the need for new technology to help find the black boxes.
These recorders are critical in air crash investigations as they provide information on how the planes were operating and the conversations of the pilots. Investigators say they help explain 90 percent of crashes.
They will be mandatory on new aircraft designed after 2021.
European manufacturer Airbus announced last month that it would start equipping its long-haul A350 and A380 jetliners with ejectable black boxes much sooner. Its main competitor Boeing has said the technology needs more study.
Also decided at the conference was a new way to disseminate warnings about the imminent risks of flying over war zones.
An online repository is to be created containing all risk information, much of which is currently available to carriers but is often fragmented.
The creation of a central database administered by the ICAO is in response to the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 last July after being shot down over eastern Ukraine. – Rappler.com