UN agency, Malaysia, convene expert meeting on real-time flight data monitoring

Photo: ITU/P.M. Virot

27 May 2014 – Some two months after a Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 vanished shortly after take-off from Kuala Lumpur, the Government-led, United Nations-supported effort to secure reforms in the way all commercial jetliners are tracked gathered industry leaders and aviation experts met recently in the Malaysian capital to weigh options on real-time tracking measures.

A two-day dialogue facilitated by the UN International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and hosted by the Malaysian Government wrapped up in Kuala Lumpur today, the latest step in a broader effort to bring together experts on real flight-time monitoring data following an impassioned appeal at ITU’s World Telecommunication Development Conference in March from the Minister of Communications and Multimedia of Malaysia, Ahmad Shabery Cheek.

Participants took note of the preliminary report on MH370 – which disappeared from civilian radar on 8 March en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers on board – by Malaysia’s Chief Inspector of Air Accidents, and its recommendation to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to examine the safety benefits of introducing a standard for real-time tracking of commercial aircraft.

Nancy Graham, Director, Air Navigation Bureau, ICAO, said that an Aircraft Tracking Task Force (ATTF) will address the near-term needs for flight tracking and that ICAO in partnership with ATTF will develop guidance material, based on available flight tracking best practices.

Pending the outcome of the ATTF, airlines will be encouraged to use existing equipment and procedures to support flight tracking. She called for the global tracking of airline flights as a priority to provide early notice of and response to abnormal flight behaviour, and thanked ITU for its offer to assist in developing long-term strategy for aviation data and information.

According to ITU, this first meeting of experts took into account the views of aerospace and avionics manufacturers, satellite system operators, providers of services and solutions in the area of ICTs and computer-based networks as well as from those directly involved in operating and flying aircraft: airlines and pilots. Requirements and concerns from the flight deck were also taken into account.

Industry experts provided information on current technological developments including solutions for position reporting, and opportunities for future technological enhancements using cloud computing and big data. They recognized the advantages of international standards, open architecture and harmonized spectrum to ensure global interoperability and compatibility as well as reduce costs through economies of scale.

ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun I. Touré expressed his deep concern for the families affected by the disappearance of Flight MH370 and urged experts to look for technological solutions to track commercial aircraft more effectively and in real time.

“The aviation and aerospace industries epitomize state-of-the-art in technology; and air travel is the safest mode of transport in the world,” he said. “Yet, even as the multi-nation search for the missing Malaysia Airlines aircraft continues, we must make every effort at the international level to develop real-time tracking solutions for the aviation industry.”

“ICTs are instrumental to the safe and efficient operation of tens of thousands of flights each day,” said Malcolm Johnson, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau. “The challenge is to bring the capabilities of the rapidly advancing telecommunication and ICT technology to the aviation sector in a coherent and coordinated manner.”


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