Malaysia calls for real time aircraft tracking after the lost of its flight MH370 exposed shortcomings of current technology

New standards to prevent future aircraft disappearance

The United Nation’s International Civil Aviation Organization has endorsed a new standard for tracking of commercial aircraft in a bid to prevent another MH370 scenario.

According to the guideline, expected to come into force in November 2016, passenger jets will have to be equipped with technology allowing them to report their exact position every 15 minutes from any place around the globe.

A component of the planned Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System, the technology would allow every plane to be located promptly in the cause of an accident.

The decision is a response to a string of deadly aviation crashes that took place above the world’s oceans in the past five years, forcing rescue teams into lengthy and costly search operations.

Above the land, the 15-minute standard could be delivered through existing radar technology, mandatory on every airplane, and would not require any additional investment from the airliners, ICAO said.

For intercontinental flights, some planes would have to upgrade their satellite tracking systems to meet the requirement. Such services already exist and are provided by satellite operators Inmarsat, Iridium and Thuraya.

In addition, ICAO has proposed all aircraft built after 2021 to be equipped with systems allowing them to be located with a six nautical mile accuracy in case of an accident.

Technology designed to locate aircraft in distress already available and part of the equipment of most aircraft but has failed in the case of all the three major aviation disasters that occured above the world's oceans in the past five years – the Air France Flight 447 that crashed in the Atlantic in 2009, Malaysia Airlines still lost Flight 370 and the latest Air Asia disaster.

The existing emergency locator transmitters operating either through radar or the Cospar Sarsat satellite system can currently be activated either manualy by pilots from the cockpit or automatically upon impact. ICAO has recommended an upgrade that would allow automatic in-flight activation of the beacons in case of a dangerous anomaly in the aircraft’s behaviour.

By 2020, ICAO would also like to introduce ejectable flight data recorders, also known as black boxes, that would allow air accident investigators to access critical data faster. While in the case of the French AF447 it took rescuers two years to retrieve the black boxes from the depth of almost 4km, in the case of Malaysian MH370 the rescue teams still haven’t managed to locate the devices.

Planemakers could use alternative technology, skipping the ejectable recorders, as long as it is possible to retrieve the same data in another way. For example, a recorder that transmits its data using satellites during a crash instead of physically ejecting might meet the standard.

ICAO’s guidelines are not binding and require individual member states to enforce them. The 191 member states would have to either comply with the recommendations or notify the agency that they are not meeting the standard.

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