The International Civil Aviation Organization has announced stricter requirements for real-time aircraft tracking, as the world marks two years since the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.
The new rules will require airliners to transmit their position every minute in case of distress and require changes to flight data recorders to ensure they are recoverable. The duration of cockpit voice recordings will be extended from two to 25 hours. Operators will have to comply with the new rules by 2021.
"Taken together, these new provisions will ensure that in the case of an accident the location of the site will be known immediately to within six nautical miles and that investigators will be able to access the aircraft's flight recorder data promptly and reliably," said ICAO Council President Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu in the statement.
"They will also contribute to greatly improved and more cost-effective search and rescue operations."
The changes were prompted by the still unexplained disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (MH370) on 8 March 2014. The Beijing-bound Boeing 777 was lost from air-traffic control radars shortly after take-off from Kuala Lumpur. In the two years of subsequent search operations, only one wing-part - the so-called flaperon - has definitively been recovered. The absence of the plane’s flight data recorders, or black boxes, makes it impossible for the investigators to determine the cause of the disaster.
Some 120,000 square km of the sea floor is being scoured at a cost of around $124.17m. Last week, a second piece of debris that could be from the plane was found off the coast of Mozambique, in a similar location to where the flaperon debris was discovered last summer.
The requirements for the one-minute tracking and flight recorder data are performance-based, meaning individual airlines and plane-makers can choose the best option for them, from among existing and emerging technologies, ICAO said.
On the anniversary of the MH370 tragedy, which has since become one of the greatest mysteries as well as the costliest search operation in the history of aviation, authorities maintain that they remain optimistic about the chances of finding the aircraft.
"At this time, the team is continuing to work towards finalising its analysis, findings, conclusions and safety recommendations on eight relevant areas associated with the disappearance of flight MH370 based on relevant information," the team said in a statement, read out on state television by lead investigator Kok Soo Choon.
The eight areas currently under investigation include the plane’s diversion from its flight plan, crew profiles, airworthiness and maintenance of the aircraft as well as the aircraft cargo consignment.
Satellite data indicated the plane likely crashed off the western coast of Australia, which suggests it must have diverted from its planned course and flown for thousands of miles over the Indian Ocean before running out of fuel.
The international team of investigators, including experts from Australia, Malaysia, the USA, the UK, France and China, said a full report of its work would only be released in the event that wreckage of the aircraft is found or the search ended, whichever comes first.
Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a statement the search was expected to be completed later this year, and he remained hopeful the aircraft would be found.
"If it is not, then Malaysia, Australia and China will hold a tripartite meeting to determine the way forward," he said.Investigators said in a report released a year ago there was nothing suspicious in the financial, medical or personal histories of pilots or crew.