Malaysia Airlines flight 370

Task force on flight tracking to report by December, IATA chief says

Task force to examine options following disappearance of flight MH370

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 April, 2014, 4:43am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 April, 2014, 8:15am

An aviation task force set up to address concerns over flight tracking after the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines plane will prepare a report for the public by December, says the head of the global airline association.

Tony Tyler, director general of the International Air Transport Association, stressed that although the committee would explore live data streaming on planes, it would need to "keep the problem in proportion" and costs might be a limiting factor.

"I want to get an answer by December. I think it's quite urgent," said the former chief executive of Cathay Pacific. "I'd like to see a report from the task force with a recommendation, I hope, with what we should be doing about tracking planes."

Sending large quantities of data via satellite networks is expensive
Tony Tyler, IATA

Task-force members will include but are not limited to the International Civil Aviation Organisation, aircraft manufacturers, equipment makers, satellite service providers, air-traffic managers and rescue teams.

The airline industry and the Malaysian government have faced heavy criticism over the handling of the flight MH370 incident as victims' families still search for answers almost a month after the plane vanished. However, Tyler discouraged rushing to premature solutions.

"Now is the time to think very carefully and bring the experts together," he said.

Although it was too early to estimate how much better tracking measures would cost, Tyler said live data streaming via satellites might be cost-prohibitive.

"We need to keep the problem in proportion. It is the first and only time it's happened, but we must make sure it can't happen again … Everybody has to consider the technical aspects and of course what it will cost … sending large quantities of data via satellite networks is expensive.

"It hasn't been seen as necessary and even now I think we need to establish whether it is necessary. I'm not saying it is. I think we need to take a good look at that question," he said.

Most planes download information at certain moments such as take-off, climbing and then cruising. Once a plane hits cruise height, data is typically released only every 30 minutes.

"The data ... is contained on the aircraft," Tyler said. "The idea behind data streaming is that even if you can't find the aircraft, you would still have the data. That's the issue."

He also questioned why governments were not utilising the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS), a flaw that was highlighted by two MH370 passengers using fake passports to board the plane.

Sixty governments around the world, including the United States and Britain but not Malaysia, require that airlines provide passenger-screening data ahead of time, costing the industry nearly €8 billion (HK$85 billion) a year. But even some of those 60 governments who require the information are not properly checking APIS.

"It's quite clear now that many countries do not use it," Tyler said. "My question is, if you're not using it, why do you need it? What should be happening is airlines should be providing this data to governments and they should use it to check against the Interpol database."