Cost, instead of technology, will be the biggest obstacle to making real-time tracking of all flights possible as recommended by a United Nations aviation body on a new international safety standard following several deadly plane crashes over the past few months. Position reporting for all commercial aircraft at 15-minute intervals would become reality when states take legal action to make the recommendation by the International Civil Aviation Organisation mandatory. Just how long that will take is the big question for airlines already operating on razor-thin margins. "Tracking capability can happen quite quickly because of the fact that most of over 11,000 long-haul commercial aircraft already have the Inmarsat equipment on board and we are offering to provide that data for free," said Bill Peltola, an Asia-Pacific senior director for Inmarsat, the major satellite communication system company alongside Iridium. But the only thing free in Inmarsat's offer, which arose from the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 accident last March, is that it will give its data at no cost to service providers, which then translate it into information for airlines or air traffic controllers, a service that comes at a price. Currently, airlines are already required to report their aircraft position at regular intervals when flying over certain areas. "Tracking all flights every 15 minutes would just be an expansion of what some airlines are already doing and at greater intensity," Peltola said. The extra costs to be borne by airlines would be the main industry challenge facing aviation authorities. Hong Kong's civil aviation department said in an emailed response to the Post that airlines "may choose their own tracking service providers and solutions … and the ongoing operational cost will depend on the individual solutions adopted by the airlines". It said it planned to implement the new standards "in a pragmatic and timely manner" but did not give a timeline. Matt Bradley, president of Flyht, the first company in the world to provide live streaming cockpit information, said available technology was capable of a lot more than locating flights at 15-minute intervals. "Mandatory position reporting is a good start, but it can and should go further than that," Bradley said. Toronto-listed Flyht makes equipment that can be installed onboard a commercial aircraft to monitor its operations real-time. In case of an emergency, an airline could require flight information received by Flyht via the satellite system Iridium, such as location and the health of aircraft components, be streamed live - at the cost of US$10 a minute, Bradley said. There is also a US$100 monthly fee per aircraft for the service and an initial US$50,000 to install Flyht's equipment box in the cockpit. Canadian carrier First Air was currently the only client for the live streaming service while Flyht had some 40 airline clients for the basic service, Bradley said. "Airlines just have not come to realise the importance of tracking before," he said, adding the ICAO initiative may begin to change that.