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
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