Air Industry Chief Vows to Never Lose Track of a Plane Again

PHOTO: Malaysias acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, center, comforts a relative of passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 at a hotel in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Saturday March 29, 2014.
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The head of the International Air Transport Association vowed today that no airplane will ever go missing again by making sure that in the future "planes can be tracked in real time."

Tony Tyler, director general of the airline trade association, spoke at an industry seminar at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel in a meeting dominated by the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

“We cannot let another aircraft simply vanish,” Tyler told the association of airline executives.

But, the industry made similar calls following the crash into the Atlantic Ocean of Air France 447 in June 2009. The search for wreckage and the black boxes took two years and cost $135 million.

Even that was not the first accident in which the cockpit voice and flight data recorders were difficult to find. Over the past 30 years, there have been 26 accidents in which underwater searches were required lasting from three days to more than three months, according to the French accident investigation agency the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses. In 2010 the BEA asked the International Civil Aviation Organization to require streaming of flight data or installation of breakaway floating data recorders.

So far the only change has been to require a 90 day life for the battery on the black box pinger. The plane flying as MH370 had not yet had the longer life battery installed.

Possible fixes are complex as the industry tries to decide “what should be considered and what are the technologies that can be used,” Tyler said. ICAO and the satellite company Inmarsat, whose data helped direct the recovery effort to the South Indian Ocean, are two industry entities already discussing what technology could be used on airliners.

Pressed to explain what made this situation different from Air France, Tyler would only say that this time things would change. “We must assure this cannot happen again.”

The day was also marked by having the head of the Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation expel the press from his speech, seven minutes into what seemed to be one of the first public detailed explanations into the last known minutes of Flight 370.

“The last data from the aircraft was at 1:07 in the morning,” Azharuddin Abdul Rahman started to say to a room filled with airline executives and about a dozen reporters.

Then he stopped abruptly and asked, “Is there any media here? Can I ask the media to stay out please?”

Expelling the reporters came as a surprise to the association. A spokesman for IATA said Azharuddin had been told the day before that reporters would be in attendance. There were cameras in the back of the room and a number of local journalists in addition to ABC News.

Afterwards, as he left the hotel, Azharuddin declined to answer questions or explain his behavior. Tyler said allowances had to be made for the Mayalsians who have been under tremendous pressure since the Boeing 777 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing went missing on March 8.

“Malaysia has had an extremely difficult time,” Tyler said reminding reporters that more than three weeks has passed and still no one knows what has happened to flight MH370. “I for one would not like to criticize them. If mistakes were made, they’ll learn from them.”

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