IATA submits aircraft tracking recommendations to ICAO


GENEVA: An expert task force established by the International Air Transport Association in the wake of the tragic disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370 has submitted its report to ICAO, IATA director general and CEO Tony Tyler confirmed today at the association’s global media day in Geneva. The report will be considered in ICAO’s development of a Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System, or GADSS.

The cross industry report from the Aircraft Tracking Task Force (ATTF) includes a set of performance criteria for aircraft tracking. “It recommends that airlines evaluate their current tracking capabilities against the performance criteria and close any gaps within a 12-month time frame,” explains Tyler. “Airlines are taking the tracking issue very seriously. Some already exceed the report’s suggested performance criteria. For others, closing the gap may take more than a 12-month time line for every aircraft.”

The IATA approach has several phases:

  • In the short term, make use of what is already available in their fleets and areas of operation
  • In the near term, look at the business case for upgrading equipment to meet the performance criteria
  • In the medium term, monitor new technologies which will become available, including space-based systems.
  • In parallel, work with manufacturers and other industry stakeholders to explore the possibility of making systems tamper proof

Captain Kevin Hiatt, SVP safety & flight operations at IATA, defines “medium term” as being “in the next three years”. Offering ADS-B globally is among the potential initiatives to be explored in the medium term, says Hiatt, who chaired the ATTF. This could bode well for Aireon’s space-based ADS-B proposal.

The ATTF report to ICAO falls short of making sweeping demands of members, and instead outlines performance criteria from which they can measure against. The ATTF “took a serious and practical look at the recommendations”, says Tyler. “While they are committed to improving, they could not fully endorse what would be practically unachievable for some.”

This includes taking tracking control away from pilots in the near-term. The last point of IATA’s approach “addresses the inescapable truth of MH370 that the transponder stopped working”, says Tyler. “Without speculating on what happened, redesigning the aircraft’s failsafe systems to make ensure that transponders cannot be shut off is well beyond the near-term focus of the task force. So the public should be aware that there is no silver bullet solution on tracking.”

A growing contingent of IATA members – namely Gulf carriers – has been calling for tamper proof tracking systems. Emirates airline boss Tim Clark, for instance, recently asserted that aircraft must never be allowed to enter “a non-trackable situation” in the first place. Pilot unions that participated in the ATTF do not support this measure.

“Both ALPA and the International Federation of Air Line Pilot’s Associations were represented on the ATTF and their opinions right now are that there does not need to be any type of tamper proofing device made, but over a period of time we’ll probably see something change in that way and you’d have to go back to them. So for now, they want to leave the systems the way they are,” Hiatt says.

Tyler assures that the industry “is working to improve, but some issues such as tamper proofing will take time to address and implement. Remember, the sealing of cockpit doors after 9/11 took several years to complete.

“In the meantime, passengers can be reassured that MH370 was an extremely rare, if not unique event. Even though aircraft cannot be tracked in all cases, flying is safe. Over 100,000 flights operate safely every day. And new technology will play an important role in making the system even more robust.”

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