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UN to put forward 15-minute flight-tracking standard

A new tracking initiative that requires commercial aircrafts to confirm their position every 15 minutes will be proposed by the United Nations aviation agency as part of a global initiative.

The intermittent reporting system comes as a precaution in the aftermath of the loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 last March that sparked a consensual need for a new standard to make it possible to pinpoint the exact last location of a plane.

According to a spokesman from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), if approved, the standard could go into effect in the near-term since it would not require additional technology on planes. The proposal is to be discussed at a safety conference in Montreal next month by ICAO members.     

"If member states agree to the standard, the safety conference will also be asked how quickly it expects it to be implemented and if it would want ICAO to expedite that process," Anthony Philbin, ICAO spokesman, told Reuters.

"Once our states have made their views known in that regard, we'll have a better idea of the timeframe," he added.

Although ICAO can effectively force airlines to act because the standards it sets usually become regulatory demands in its 191 member states, the agency thinks the decision should be consensual.

Most airlines use satellite systems to track their planes and according to the ICAO the majority of long-haul planes already have systems in place that can transmit the specific route and location. However, the equipment is not always turned on, which leads to gaps in satellite coverage.

On 8 March 2014 a Boeing 777 operated by Malaysia Airlines and with 239 people on board disappeared from air traffic control radars. The incident spurred what has since become the largest search operation in the history of aviation.

UK satellite operator Inmarsat proved early in the investigation that the plane must have veered off its original course to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur and strayed thousands of kilometres into the Indian Ocean before running out of fuel.

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