ICAO moves quickly to implement new standard for global tracking of aircraft

MONTREAL – A top official with the International Civil Aviation Organization says new rules on the horizon for tracking of commercial aircraft would have made a difference in the search for a Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared mysteriously last year.

ICAO member states threw their support behind a new standard whereby a commercial aircraft would be tracked every 15 minutes during normal operations when flying over oceanic or remote areas, and every minute if that aircraft is in distress.

Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, head of the ICAO Council, says that would have helped in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which went down on March 17, 2014, while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.

It was ruled an accident last week, but the aircraft has not been found. New standards adopted this week would have changed that, Aliu told reporters at a high-level safety conference at ICAO’s Montreal headquarters.

“It would have made a difference, for example, if you had one-minute tracking up to six nautical miles, you would know where the aircraft is,” the ICAO chief told a news conference Wednesday.

Most modern aircraft are equipped with the capability to meet the new standard. It is expected to be adopted by the fall.

Aliu pointed out that normally, safety recommendations are only implemented once an accident investigation is complete.

But ICAO, the United Nations agency that governs civil aviation, is acting more quickly on the airline tracking issue.

“In this case, the investigation is still going on and we’re already taking action because we believe the public is demanding answers,” he said.

ICAO’s member states have also agreed to better share up-to-date information about the risks of flying in conflict zones.

That recommendation was in response to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 by a surface-to-air missile on July 17, 2014 as it was flying over a war-torn section of Ukraine.

“Someone knew the capabilities the combatants had and that just wasn’t shared in a way that was protective to aviation,” said Nancy Graham, the director of ICAO’s air navigation bureau.

Graham said a prototype of the Internet-based system exists, housed on ICAO’s website. It was recently tested with the co-operation of the government in war-torn Libya.

“They very specifically said what’s not safe in their environment, but that wasn’t widely broadcast until they shared it with us,” she said.


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