IATA may mull criteria for data trigger

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Proclaiming “we cannot let another aircraft disappear”, IATA director-general and CEO Tony Tyler recently announced the association would convene an expert task force to work with ICAO to study options for improving aircraft tracking in the wake of the mysterious and tragic disappearance of MH370.

This task force “will examine all of the options available for tracking commercial aircraft against the parameters of implementation, investment, time and complexity to achieve the desired coverage”.  It will “report its conclusions by December, reflecting the need for urgent action and careful analysis”, said Tyler at IATA’s Ops conference in Kuala Lumpur.

Reporting from the conference, various news agencies suggested IATA thinks airlines should consider live-streaming flight data. But in an interview with RGN, IATA was eager to clarify that it is not talking about real-time data streaming, though – interestingly – it said it would explore the option of helping industry define a subset of criteria that would trigger a transmission.

“We’re talking about a task force that is going to look at making sure airplanes can’t disappear. Data streaming is down the road – there are hurdles to storing it and making sense of it – but that doesn’t address your ‘finding the airplane’ issue. That simply addresses a different question,” says Perry Flint, IATA head of corporate communications, the Americas.

The Air Line Pilots Association together with the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations believes the industry should implement “existing technology” that can pinpoint the location of aircraft in near real time. “Implementation of technology such as ADS-B and use of satellite surveillance of aircraft during flight operations must become the standard across the industry,” it says.

To address the ‘finding the airplane’ question, says Flint, “All options are on the table”. But in the event of a fire, he adds, “You have to be able to pull the circuit breaker, and be able to disable [a transponder] and stop running electricity through that device.”

Tyler, in his speech, warned, “In our eagerness to move this along, we must also ensure that prudent decisions are made in line with global standards. This is not the time for hastily prepared sales pitches or regional solutions.” And Flint later stressed that the focus of the task force “is not streaming data”, at least not continuously and in real-time.

Rather the goal is to come up with “an industry consensus position on what is the best way to ensure an airplane doesn’t disappear. That wouldn’t have to be continuous. It could be something activated in the event of a catastrophic event, but even that does not necessarily lead to continuous tracking of flight,” says Flint.

With respect to real-time streaming, he said, “You’re talking about enormous amounts of data. If you begin with 100,000 flights a day, imagine the amount of data you’re talking about, and you have to somehow find some use for that data, so that’s clearly an issue in and of itself, but there is an option to work with manufacturers and airlines to define a subset of criteria that would trigger a transmission.”

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