Last updated: 10:30 AM ET, Wed March 09 2016

Two Years After MH370, Could Better Tracking for Planes Be On Its Way?

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | March 09, 2016

Two Years After MH370, Could Better Tracking for Planes Be On Its Way?

Malaysia Airlines flight 370 disappeared two years ago (on March 8, 2014). The plane has never been recovered, so it is unclear what exactly caused it to crash. Recent discoveries have given searchers and families of the passengers on the flight a new sense of hope that a discovery is in the near future.

Real time tracking

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the UN agency that oversees international air travel, is now acting to change the existing rules so that it is easier to track commercial planes while they are in flight (and especially when they are under distress).

Malaysia has been leading the call for real-time tracking features to be mandatory throughout the commercial aviation industry. The ICAO’s council has approved measures that won’t require second-by-second tracking, but will be able to provide a very accurate location for commercial airplanes.

New technology and new rules

New planes will have to use tracking systems that can transmit an accurate location at least once per minute. Should a plane equipped with such a system go down, its location will be known immediately within six nautical miles. This will greatly increase the speed and reduce the cost of search and rescue efforts. In addition, the length of time that a cockpit voice recorder is active will be increased to 25 hours. This would come into play in instances like MH370, where no one is quite sure what happened.

READ MORE: New Law Impacts Compensation for Families of MH370 Victims

ICAO Council President Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu made a statement following the approval of the measures. "Taken together, these new provisions will ensure that in the case of an accident the location of the site will be known immediately to within six nautical miles, and that investigators will be able to access the aircraft's flight recorder data promptly and reliably.”

Airlines or airplane makers will have to install equipment that fits the new minimum minute-by-minute standard. However, they can choose whichever tracking system best fits their needs; they do not have to rely on a certain system. This will allow carriers to either pick currently available equipment or perhaps opt for something new.

A lengthy process

The minute-by-minute tracking systems will not be installed overnight. New planes should be outfitted  with the new equipment by 2020 in the United States. By 2018, the ICAO will require planes traveling over open water to report their position every 15 minutes. Currently, pilots check in every half-hour with location updates while they are flying over oceans.

READ MORE: Possible Debris from Missing MH370 Found in Mozambique

There will be a cost to these upgrades, but considering the price tag of the years-long search for MH370 and the payouts Malaysia had to make to passengers’ families, it is a small investment. Several companies are saying they they will be able to provide real time satellite tracking either around the entire globe or in certain regions by 2018. Airlines could improve tracking on their own before the deadline. It could be a good PR move to do so, especially for Malaysia Airlines. 

So better tracking of commercial airliners is coming, but it will take a while before these improvements are put in place. 


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