COMMERCIAL AIRCRAFT TRACKING – THE NEW PRIORITY
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
11 Jun 14. Speaking at the annual meeting of IATA (International Air Transport Organisation) held in Doha, Qatar this week CEO Tony Tyler told his audience that in the wake of the loss of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 making sure another plane is never lost again should be the immediate priority of the commercial airline industry. Few would disagree that the tragic incident, whatever the cause or reason was, that led to the disappearance of the Boeing 777 plane somewhere in the Far-East Asia region
Given the amount of highly sophisticated communications technology we have at our fingertips and the mistaken belief that we are indispensable and that we have cracked everything we need to know the as yet unexplained loss of MH370 has taught us a considerable amount. There is no shortage of available tracking technology these days although there may well be a lack of will on the part of some airlines to fit it onto their planes. Surveillance of aircraft in the air and of ships and submarines at sea is a form of technology that is already well mastered by the military. But when it comes to finding a lost commercial aircraft it seems that technology has in this instance failed. Personally I find it rather surprising that after all that was learned following the tragic loss of the Air France Airbus A330 plane in the Atlantic Ocean five years earlier that there has been no improvement in black-box transponder technology or on extending battery life.
Since the search for flight MH370 began a great deal has been learned about how we track aircraft and I suspect even more about how we stream flight data. But the bottom line is that every twist and turn of the massive and costly search for the missing plane (this is conservatively put at around $35 million) and that began immediately following its disappearance from radar screens on March 8th appears to have made explanation of what might have occurred and where now to look for the plane more confusing. Worse for some is that on this occasion it appears that the satellite technology data and subsequent mathematical analysis provided by Inmarsat and that at one point had appeared to provide the most substantial breakthrough in the search has now also been found wanting.
Few will have doubts that the unexplained loss of the Malaysian Airlines MH370 flight will hasten a new generation of improved aircraft tracking capability and perhaps a new system aimed at ensuring an aircraft lost at sea is easier to find. Where there is a will there is a way and I am in no doubt that the technology required to provide this is already in existence.
IATA’s Tony Tyler is quoted in the press as saying in Doha Monday that in terms of assessment of the technology review “we’re going to be focussing on the tracking of aircraft rather than the streaming of data”. He confirmed that IATA plans to deliver a report to member airlines in September that will include recommendations in regard to the type of tracking systems that should be carried by commercial aircraft plus various and other changes aimed at ensuring an incident and unexplained loss and inability to find a commercial aircraft never occurs again.
I am not going to engage in conspiracy theories of what might have occurred to flight MH370 but I will say that such has the issue of commercial aircraft tracking become an airline industry priority that we can I believe be certain that the concerted effort led by IATA working in conjunction with the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) and perhaps governments as well will lead to a set of recommendations aimed at radically improving the chances of finding a crashed or downed aircraft.
To work effectively and in any part of the world will require concerted effort by aircraft manufacturers, airlines and the various bodies responsible for tracking and a