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Aviation Safety Summit Opens This Week 02/01 11:53

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Government and aviation industry officials from dozens of 
countries are meeting in Montreal this week to try to find consensus on how to 
keep from losing airliners like the one that vanished without a trace in Asia 
and another shot down in Eastern Europe.

   It is only the second high-level safety conference in the 70-year history of 
the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. agency, but last year was 
calamitous. A Malaysia Airlines flight disappeared in March and has not been 
found. In July, another Malaysia Airlines flight was down shot down while 
flying over an area of Ukraine where ethnic Russian rebels are trying to secede.

   There is broad agreement that the agency should build a database where 
governments can send intelligence or warnings about risks to aircraft flying 
over conflict zones. Historically, though, nations other than the United States 
rarely have posted public warnings about such risks in other countries. Few 
have global intelligence networks, and it has been considered almost impolite 
for one country to issue a warning about another. Instead, the practice has 
been for each country to issue warnings only about its own airspace.

   But that is changing.

   ICAO, the U.N. agency, sent an urgent warning to members on Jan. 14 that 
airlines flying over Libya risk being shot down. On Jan. 22, the European 
Aviation Safety Agency distributed a French warning that flights over Pakistan 
might be subject to "terrorist attacks."

   Ukraine had warned airlines flying over its territory to remain above 32,000 
feet. The Malaysia plane, however, was flying at about 33,000 feet from the 
Netherlands to Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, when it was fired upon.

   A majority of the 298 people aboard were Dutch citizens. The Netherlands 
wants airlines to tell passengers before takeoff whether a plane's flight path 
will cross a conflict zone. Airlines and other nations say that goes too far.

   While sympathetic to the Dutch concerns, "we're also confident that an ICAO 
centralized database represents a reasonable balance," said Kenneth Quinn, 
former general counsel at the Federal Aviation Administration.

   There also are disagreements about whether database information should be 
screened before being made public, and how to handle conflicting or inaccurate 
information. Besides official intelligence, the database is expected to include 
media reports and other unofficial information.

   The U.S. does not believe the U.N. agency is capable of evaluating the 
information and wants sources of reports be identified so users can decide how 
much weight they want to give them, said a U.S. official, who spoke on 
condition of anonymity because the issue is politically sensitive. "There may 
be conflicting information, but you don't make the world safer by protecting 
people from ambiguity," the official said.

   As for keeping track of planes, there is agreement it needs to be done 
better, but no certainty on how to do that.

   The U.N. agency and the International Air Transport Association, the world's 
leading airline trade group, want long-haul flights over ocean to report their 
whereabouts every 15 minutes. If a plane deviates from its route or if there is 
some irregularity, the plane automatically would report its position every 
minute. That way an impact site should be within about 6 nautical miles of the 
last reported position.

   Some airlines are balking at the potential cost. There also is disagreement 
over whether specific technology solutions should be required or whether 
airlines should be allowed to choose their own, so long as a plane can meet the 
reporting standard.

   Malaysia Airlines 370 vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 
239 people aboard. The Boeing 777 was capable of reporting continuous location 
information by satellite, but the system was not in use. The plane is believed 
to have crashed in the Indian Ocean. More than 25,000 square miles of ocean 
have been searched, but nothing has been found.

   Current global aviation standards require that airliners flying long 
distances over water report their position about every 45 minutes, but 
satellite services can provide more precise information. Customers of 
Spidertracks, a New Zealand company that provides satellite-based tracking 
mostly to charter operators flying to remote or dangerous parts of the world, 
can monitor the movements of planes in near real time on their smartphones or 
laptops and exchange two-way text messages with the aircraft.

   Part of the need to find lost planes is for the recovery of flight data and 
cockpit voice recorders, also known as "black boxes," to learn what happened.

   European regulators and aircraft maker Airbus want planes equipped with 
black boxes that automatically eject and float to the surface in the event of a 
water crash. The boxes would have emergency locator transmitters, but there are 
doubts about their effectiveness.

   Boeing officials, who oppose the idea, have told aviation forums that the 
company is unaware of a single instance in which one of its airliners has been 
found as the result of an emergency locator transmitter. The company wants the 
flexibility to decide which technologies work best.

   One way to get around the need for floating black boxes would be for 
airliners to stream much of the data via satellite to ground stations or cloud 
data storage sites. But cost is a major factor, and there are concerns about 
privacy and security.

   The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that black boxes 
and flight tracking methods also be made tamper resistant. MH370's transponder 
and other equipment that might have been used to track the plane shut down 
during the flight. Global aviation officials suspect they were deliberately 
turned off, but without the plane or its black boxes there is no way to know 
for certain.


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