Crash of Malaysian airliner prompts special ICAO meeting on global flight tracking

MONTREAL – Spurred by the crash of a Malaysian airliner in March, the International Civil Aviation Organization held a special meeting Monday to look at the global tracking of airline flights.

The UN agency that governs civil aviation was expected to come up with a number of recommendations by the end of its meeting on Tuesday, when a news conference is scheduled.

ICAO and the International Air Transport Association are looking at better airline flight tracking, with both global organizations hoping to collaborate in the short term on voluntary actions.

This isn’t the first time ICAO has looked at the issue.

A background paper says a high-level safety conference in 2010 discussed situations where accidents occurred over the high seas, including the crash of Air France flight AF 447 a year earlier.

The Paris-Rio de Janeiro flight crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009, killing all 228 people aboard the Airbus.

After the tragedy, France’s accident investigation bureau recommended that ICAO study the possibility of making it mandatory for aircraft on public flights to regularly transmit basic flight information like position, altitude, speed and heading.

The ICAO conference noted there had been instances where an airliner went missing for a prolonged period of time without any trace of its whereabouts, but that most of those incidents were resolved without consequences.

The conference concluded there was a need to improve communications over oceans and remote areas as well as search-and-rescue procedures. It also called for a revision of cockpit procedures.

It noted that other industries like the maritime sector were already using technologies that allowed them to track their global assets.

Questionnaires were also sent out after the Air France crash to companies that sell systems and applications that could support tracking of aircraft around the world.

One company that did reply was Britain’s Inmarsat, which provides global mobile satellite communication services.

It announced Monday it will offer free basic tracking services for planes that fly over oceans.

The London-based company said the service is being offered to all 11,000 commercial passengers aircraft that are already equipped with an Inmarsat satellite connection, which include most of the world’s airlines.

Inmarsat started out in 1979 as an intergovernmental organization that helped track ships at sea, but became a private company in 1999.

— With files from The Associated Press

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