Air Transporters Urge Better Tracking in Wake of Missing Flight 370

Speaking from the city where the missing Malaysia Airlines flight took off, the CEO of one of the largest international airline industry associations called for improved aircraft tracking and passenger data sharing in a recent keynote address.

Weeks after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing, and dozens of search areas and possible sightings later, authorities are still looking for clues as to what might have happened to the lost aircraft and the 239 people on board.

While the search continues, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), whose 240 members include passenger and cargo airlines making up 84 percent of global air traffic, is looking to the future and what can be done to prevent another tragedy from occurring.

The group met this week, coincidentally, in Kuala Lumpur—the city where Flight 370 originated and now the central hub of the search effort—for its Ops Conference 2014, which brings together airlines, regulatory agencies, and the aviation industry to focus on safety and flight operations. In his opening keynote, IATA Director General and CEO Tony Tyler said the industry needs to improve flight-tracking capabilities and make more effective use of passenger data.

“In a world where our every move seems to be tracked, there is disbelief both that an aircraft could simply disappear and that the flight data and cockpit voice recorders are so difficult to recover,” he said. “Air France 447 brought similar issues to light a few years ago, and some progress was made. But that must be accelerated. We cannot let another aircraft simply vanish.”

The technology exists now to locate missing aircraft more quickly, Taylor told reporters, according to Reuters, but he isn’t sure how practical it would be. “To have every aircraft streaming all [data] at every phase of the flight, can it be managed or would it simply overwhelm us?”

Taylor also called on governments to improve procedures for collecting and sharing passenger data.

“It is important to remember that airlines are not border guards or policemen,” he said. “The checking of passports is the well-established responsibility of governments. The industry goes to great effort and expense to ensure that governments have reliable information about passengers before an aircraft takes off. Governments need to review their processes for vetting and using this data.”

Reports of two passengers boarding Flight 370 with stolen passports raised red flags for investigators early on as a possible terrorist link. While those passengers’ background checks appeared to clear them, Taylor told reporters that their easy access to the flight “rings alarm bells.”

According to IATA data cited by Taylor, out of 36.4 million flights carrying 3 billion people in 2013, there were only 81 accidents, 16 of which were fatal.

“Accidents are rare, but the current search for MH370 is a reminder that we can never be complacent on safety,” said Taylor. “It may well a long time before we know exactly what happened on that flight. But it is already clear that we must never let another aircraft go missing in this way.”

Naval aviators assist in search and rescue operations for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Keith DeVinney/Released)

Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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