The aircraft lost contact with air traffic control at 06:17 while travelling near Belitung island, over the Java Sea between Kalimantan and Java.
AirAsia recently began to improve the tracking of its fleet although the actual aircraft that went missing had not yet been upgraded, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Concern is now being expressed over the speed with which airlines are likely to equip their fleets with off-the-shelf technology that can help search and rescue efforts pinpoint with timely accuracy the location at which an aircraft has entered the water.
And yet, the airline industry is resisting any imminent mandate despite the efforts of a task force led by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) which was charged earlier this year with making recommendations on how airlines should best adopt a near-term framework for real-time aircraft tracking.
The task force was established after the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines MH370 which went missing on March 8 with 239 people on board en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Supported by UN aviation body ICAO, IATA spent several months leading the industry task force to agree near-term measures in readiness for a universal system. Even so, IATA chief Tony Tyler underlined from the outset that – certainly in the short term – a performance-based approach would be the industry’s preferred course of action. This would allow airlines to fulfil any requirements for better position reporting in a variety of ways relying upon current levels of equipage and using existing procedures – essentially implementing the least costly and time-consuming fixes.
“We have multiple layers and capabilities for tracking aircraft already – from position reporting by the pilot to sophisticated satellite-based systems,” Tyler told an aviation law forum in September. “But we must recognise that the global fleet includes some aircraft with the most advanced technologies available on board as well as aircraft that are not so well-equipped.”
While the IATA task force recommendation of a 12-month timetable for ‘quick fixes’ was rejected, ultimately, the long term vision of a universal, real-time tracking system called GADSS currently being developed by ICAO will require aircraft to automatically report their position at least every 15 minutes in normal operations. In case of emergencies where aircraft go off course from their original filed flight paths, more frequent tracking will activate at intervals of at least once per minute.
If the situation worsens, autonomous distress tracking will be triggered using systems independent of aircraft systems or power supply. In the worst-case scenario, a flight recorder attached to the surface of the aircraft will automatically deploy.
How well these measures will be welcomed by a cash-strapped airline industry with little appetite for such technologies remains unclear.
At a United States National Transportation Safety Board industry forum in October, it became increasingly evident that any global agreement on standards and regulations requiring further safety enhancements such as real-time aircraft tracking will be hard won.
Peggy Gilligan, one of the Federal Aviation Administration’s principal safety chiefs, admitted that aircraft tracking among other safety technologies would be hard to justify under current federal cost-benefit trade-offs and that higher-priority initiatives offered more easily achievable – and quantifiable benefits.
That went against the sounds coming out of Europe where aviation safety regulators are understood to be preparing imminent rules for universal, real-time tracking of aircraft while Airbus, the European airframer admitted it was busy working on a roadmap to develop double combined recorders – one being deployable – for new-build A350 and A380 aircraft.
One industry insider mulled that perhaps the most interesting point of the current IATA and ICAO efforts on real time aircraft tracking will centre on how they will get their various recommendations implemented.
“IATA could relatively quickly make compliance with their tracking recommendations a requirement for airlines to retain IOSA certification,” he said. “For the ICAO member states to move the GADSS manual recommendations into enforceable national regulations will probably take a lot longer. Maybe the states are hoping that having the recommendations out there will show industry the way to go while detailed regulatory requirements go through definition and adoption.”
While the prospect of IATA imposing IOSA-type requirements looks remote, Eurocontrol’s Hof tells Air Traffic Management: “The idea is indeed that the GADSS concept of operations shows the way to go but that industry assumes its responsibility especially in the short term. At some point in the future I expect standards and regulation to become effective to ensure that aircraft tracking is widely and consistently used.”
- Jet Lost at Sea Shows the Gaps in Tracking Data
- IATA: no ‘silver bullet’ solution on tracking
- ICAO web page for the February 2015 Safety Conference. This features a working paper giving a detailed status of the work on tracking and a public version of the GADSS document. That ICAO conference is where the topic will be discussed in detail.
- True Heading? Was the reluctance of the airline industry to accelerate the deployment of global flight tracking solutions entirely predictable? Is it truly committed to a huge leap in situation awareness and if so, how does the ATM community begin to respond?
- Tracing The Future Steve Winter examines what issues UN aviation agency ICAO faced in assessing global tracking technologies following the loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370