MIAMI — An International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) working paper recommends that airlines adopt a new 15-minute aircraft tracking standard. The recommendations, made at the organization’s High Level Safety Conference attended by 850 members, came in the aftermath of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. The topic of flight tracking has become a persistent theme on preventing future accidents of this type.
In releasing its paper, ICAO emphasized that the recommended standard is “performance-based and not prescriptive,” adding that airlines would be able to meet it using the available and planned technologies and procedures they deem suitable.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) welcomed ICAO’s recommendation to move towards the adoption of a performance-based standard for tracking commercial aircraft. “This will continue the industry’s successful record of working with governments to improve safety through global harmonization,” said Director General and CEO Tony Tyler in a statement. “We are all moving in the same direction. The conference conclusions should be a reassurance to all travelers that safety is always aviation’s top priority.”
The concept of operations for the Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System (GADSS) was developed by ICAO in 2014, after the disappearance of flight MH370 and the special Multidisciplinary Meeting on Global Flight Tracking which ICAO convened soon after. The concept called for a three-tiered approach for global aircraft tracking over the long-term, covering normal, abnormal and distress conditions.
The IATA-coordinated Aircraft Tracking Task Force noted in its report that tracking over remote and oceanic airspace could be achieved through existing means of reporting and that new space-based technologies may play a key role in future, according to the association.
“Many airlines are already tracking their aircraft. We welcome this initiative to implement a performance-based standard that will permit airlines to use new and existing technologies for aircraft tracking,” said Tyler. “We look forward to working with ICAO in the pursuit of effective and sustainable solutions that do not create unnecessary redundancy nor have unintended impacts on safety.”
Gerald Sterns is a San Francisco-based attorney at the law firm Sterns & Walker. His practice focuses on plaintiff’s litigation referrals on major aviation and other catastrophic claims, both nationally and internationally. Cases he’s worked on include Air France Flight 447, GOL Airlines Flight 1907 and TWA Flight 800.
Sterns applauded ICAO for taking some action. “Anything would be preferable to the current horse-and-buggy practice of stashing black boxes in the tails of aircraft with limited battery life and hope if there is crash it will be on land so it can be found relatively easily,” he said. “Remember — planes fly elsewhere and the earth is covered three-fourths in water.”
But Sterns took exception with allowing airlines to meet the standard using the available and planned technologies and procedures they deem “suitable.” “`Suitable’” is subjective and open ended. It leaves airlines much too much wiggle room,” he said. “Their track record has always been to drag their feet where changes are recommended that cost money.”
Satellites are the answer and have been for years, said Sterns. “But airlines resist. So the rules should be changed to make them do it. Don’t leave to airline to determine what is suitable,” he said.
“This new standard will be an important first step in providing a foundation for global flight tracking and the future implementation of the more comprehensive ICAO Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System (GADSS),” said ICAO Council President Dr. Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu in a press release. The standard will be sent to member states under an expedited process for formal comment by the end of February, with the plans to have it adopted by ICAO member states by the fall.