U.N. Agency Sets New Standards For Tracking Aircraft In Flight
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
One of the shocking news events in 2014 was the disappearance of a commercial jetliner, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. There were 239 people on board. The authorities lost track of the plane. It still hasn't been found. At the United Nations, officials who monitor aviation are trying to prevent this from happening again. They want to require commercial jetliners to report their location every 15 minutes. Some safety advocates wanted even more requirements. Here's NPR's David Schaper.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Air safety investigator Anthony Brickhouse says whenever there's a horrifying air transporter tragedy, the hope is that from the wreckage and the flight recorders, you can piece together what happened and learn from it.
ANTHONY BRICKHOUSE: And you can't learn unless you find the plane or if you have data from the plane. So right now, we really can't learn anything from this event because we don't have any evidence yet. And that's the problem.
SCHAPER: Brickhouse is referring to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 on March 8 of last year, an event the professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University calls unprecedented and shocking. For many, it is still hard to fathom how, in this day and age, the Boeing 777 just vanished without a trace. So international aviation regulators, safety advocates and airline executives are meeting in Montreal this week to establish new flight-tracking protocols.
NANCY GRAHAM: And we developed very quickly a standard which calls for an aircraft to be tracked within 15 minutes, no matter where it is around the world, whether it's in radar coverage or not.
SCHAPER: This is Nancy Graham, director of the Air Navigation Bureau at the U.N.'s International Civil Aviation Organization. She says planes will be required to check in every 15 minutes during normal operations, and there's an additional standard for planes in distress.
GRAHAM: If it gets into trouble, if it goes beyond its flight plan or in a very quick dissent or something that's in trouble, it will begin to broadcast once every minute, which allows us to locate the aircraft, in the event that it goes down, within six nautical miles.
SCHAPER: And Graham says these tracking systems will be tamper-proof. The member states participating in the aviation safety summit agreed to enact this new tracking standard with a target date for full implementation of November, 2016. But the airline industry stops short of promising to meet that deadline. Tony Tyler is director general of the International Air Transport Association.
TONY TYLER: Certainly, the industry is not sort of sitting back and waiting. A number of airlines are and are planning to improve and work to new ways of tracking their aircrafts in flight.
SCHAPER: And, in fact, experts say such tracking technology already exists in most planes, and it shouldn't be too costly for airlines to implement. Still, some, including Malaysia's government and the NTSB, are calling for real-time, minute-by-minute flight tracking. Air safety investigator Anthony Brickhouse agrees that would be the ideal. But he adds...
BRICKHOUSE: I know that 15 minutes doesn't seem like a lot. But compared to what we have now, where planes can be out of radar contact for hours, I think the 15 minutes is a good start.
SCHAPER: And Brickhouse says it's a first step toward eventually requiring real-time flight tracking, which he says isn't too far off. David Schaper, NPR News.
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