The mystery of how a Malaysia Airlines plane flew into oblivion and the challenge of finding new ways to track aircraft hangs over the annual conference of airlines that opened yesterday in Doha.
The loss of flight MH370, with 239 people on board, was a shock to the airline industry, and clouds the event in Doha just as it celebrates 100 years of commercial aviation.
Aircraft being produced today for the next expected boom in traffic are scarcely comparable to the biplanes that carried mail or seaplanes that later assured many long-distance routes before the age of electronic navigation.
The main purpose of this 70th annual meeting, organised by the International Air Transport Association (Iata), is to enable its 240 members accounting for 84 per cent of global air traffic to talk about business prospects for the sector.
But the three-day gathering will open under the shadow of the Boeing 777 airliner which took off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8 bound for Beijing, but flew into mystery leaving behind a trail of despair for relatives of the passengers and crew, muddle over what had happened, and no idea of where it had gone.
Various theories emerged about how and why the plane may have veered widely off course, and searches switched direction accordingly, but no debris has been found in the southern Indian Ocean where the aircraft is now believed to have looped far off course.
The drama also revealed to astonished public opinion that in an age of sophisticated civil and military radar scanning and of GPS satellite location and monitoring systems, an airliner can fly into apparent blind spots, leaving little or no trace.
This has led to calls for all airliners to be equipped with extra emitters.
When Iata held its annual meeting in Cape Town, South Africa, last year one of the matters raised was poor air transport safety in Africa.
This year the conference will focus on how to improve the tracking of aircraft using various technologies to monitor their movements or to ensure the transmission of flight data. It is likely to encourage international initiatives on this.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation recently formed a working group which by September is to come up with ways of tracking aircraft.
At the European Aviation Safety Agency, executive director Patrick Ky said: "This meeting of Iata is particularly important in the context of the disappearance of flight MH370.
"We are mobilised to ensure that such a tragic event doesn't happen again."
At Air France, the director responsible for operations, Alain Bassil, said: "The disappearance of flight MH370 is a landmark for airline companies as a whole ... The annual meeting of Iata is an opportunity to advance the procedures for looking for an aircraft and providing emergency help in the event of an accident."
The French airline, the operator of an Airbus 330 airliner which plunged into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009, was slightly ahead on the issue, he said.
The place chosen for the meeting, in the Middle East where air traffic is booming, is also symbolic. Last week a new airport opened in Doha.
In just over a decade, airlines in the Middle East have increased their share of world traffic from 4 per cent to 9 per cent. Traffic in the region is expected to grow at an average rate of 7.1 per cent a year over the next 20 years compared with 4.7 per cent for the sector globally.
Flights to Darwin resume after being hit by volcano ash
Flights have resumed to and from Australia's northernmost city of Darwin after they were suspended due to clouds of ash from an Indonesian volcano.
Friday's eruption of Sangeang Api volcano off Sumbawa island sent two ash plumes over northern Australia on Saturday. More than 30 flights were cancelled and international flights through that air space were rerouted.
International and domestic flights were resuming services through Darwin late yesterday as ash disbursed over northern Australia.
The major plume affecting Australian aviation swept southeast over the west side of the Northern Territory and as far south as the central Australian city of Alice Springs.
Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority warned volcanic ash could affect all aircraft with piston or jet engines at all flight levels.