Asiana Airlines flight 214 crashed July 6, 2013, at San Francisco International Airport. / Josh Edelson, AFP/Getty Images
As the search continues for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, international airlines hope to develop a better way to track planes before the end of the year.
Tony Tyler, CEO of the International Air Transport Association, which represents 240 airlines worldwide, said Tuesday at the group's operations conference that any plan should be coordinated through the International Civil Aviation Organization, rather than settling for regional solutions.
"In our eagerness to move this along, we must also ensure that prudent decisions are made in line with global standards," Tyler said in Kuala Lumpur, where the conference is coincidentally being held where the investigation is headquartered. "I have no doubt that governments are eager to come to a conclusion and take action as soon as possible."
The Flight Safety Foundation, an industry group with members including airlines and manufacturers, called on commercial aviation officials and regulators to gather for an international symposium on technology for better airliner tracking.
David McMillan, chairman of the foundation's board of governors, said existing technology would allow better tracking of aircraft operations and engine performance.
"That data can help us unlock mysteries, leading to timely safety improvements and more focused search-and-rescue missions, while avoiding some of the pain and anguish felt by victims' loved ones in the wake of a tragedy," McMillan said.
Fatal aviation accidents are rare. The number of aviation-related fatalities actually declined last year, according to IATA. The association said Tuesday that there were 210 deaths last year as a result of commercial jet accidents, down from 414 in 2012.
For jets assembled in western nations, the accident rate in 2013 was equal to one accident for every 2.4 million flights.
But Tyler said the Malaysia mystery is a reminder against complacency for safety.
"We cannot let another aircraft simply vanish," Tyler said.
Keeping better track of planes became an issue in 2009 after Air France Flight 447 went missing over the Atlantic. Despite quickly finding debris on the surface, searchers spent nearly two years looking for the plane's wreckage and recording devices on the ocean floor.
Proposals have included tracking each flight by VHF radio over land or satellite over sea, streaming information about every airliner's operation by broadband and installing recorders that eject from planes in an emergency, to float on water and signal for help.
"Satellite communications, navigation and surveillance systems also represent efficient ways of tracking aircraft, especially over water," said Kenneth Hylander, acting CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation.
Streaming information and installing recorders that can eject from planes are both considered costly. But some experts say the cost of satellite tracking by GPS would be relatively low.
Tyler said work on better tracking must be accelerated. The airlines will convene an expert task force including the civil aviation organization participation to examine options, costs, time and complexity.
"In a world where our every move seems to be tracked, there is disbelief both that an aircraft could simply disappear and that the flight data and cockpit voice recorders are so difficult to recover," Tyler said.
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