Is anything being done for the better tracking of aircraft, and other questions

Media photographers try to take pictures of family members of passengers onboard missing Malaysian air carrier AirAsia flight QZ8501 as they sit inside a crisis-centre set up at Juanda International Airport in Surabaya on December 29, 2014. AFP PHOTO  

The disappearance of the Indonesia AirAsia flight QZ8501 on December 28 raises questions about the real time tracking of aircraft, coming just nine months after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. Some questions and answers about developments on this front:

Is anything being done to improve global capabilities to track aircraft real-time, and in a more dependable manner?
Yes. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), had after a special meeting on global flight tracking convened in May 2014, said that its member states and the international air transport industry had arrived at consensus on the near term priorities to track flights, "no matter their global location or destination". This meeting took place weeks after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in March 2014.

Who are involved in this effort?
An Aircraft Tracking Task Force (ATTF) had been working on the tracking issue for some time and has come up with a report.

Which organisations are part of the ATTF?
Apart from International Air Transport Association (IATA) and ICAO, Airlines for America, Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines, the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization, Flight Safety Foundation, International Coordinating Council of Aerospace Industries Associations, International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Airbus SAS, Bombardier Aerospace and Embraer Commercial Aviation.

What were the near term priorities identified?
Mainly that global tracking of airline flights will be a priority to spot abnormal flight behaviour and that airlines will be encouraged to use existing equipment and procedures as much as possible to support flight tracking.

What about the specifics?
The ATTF held meetings between May and September to assess the current state of aircraft tracking by the airlines and air navigation service providers. A baseline level of tracking capability was identified, based on which performance based recommendations were identified, says an IATA presentation.

What next?
The task force submitted its report to IATA and ICAO for review earlier this month. Industry and governments were expected take into account its recommendations and identify the next steps, says IATA. One of its recommendations is that operators take stock of their current tracking capabilities and adopt steps to plug any gaps within 12 months of the issuance of the report. "Some airlines, based on their operation, may not be able to implement some items in the near-term," IATA says though.

What are the report's key findings?
That technologies and services are available to improve global aircraft tracking; performance criteria will ensure a baseline of tracking capabilities; procedures need to be improved.

There are different levels of tracking capabilities in different parts of the world, which need to be further evaluated in keeping with the ATTF report. But redesigning aircraft failsafe systems to ensure transponders or other key tracking systems cannot be shut off "is well beyond the near-term focus" of the ATTF, said Tony Tyler, director general and CEO of IATA, at a briefing earlier this month.

Emerging technologies will continue to enhance global capability to track aircraft.

What is the outlook for tracking then?
"The public should be aware that there is no silver bullet solution on tracking. The industry is working to improve, but some issues such as tamper proofing, will take time to address and implement," says Mr Tyler. For some IATA members not all of the reccommendations of the ATTF were "achievable".

The approach is to make use of what is available in the short term, look at the business case for upgrading equipment to meet the performance criteria in the near term and monitor the emergence of new technologies, including space-based systems, in the medum term.

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Printable version | Apr 23, 2021 5:10:14 AM |

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