IATA chief: 'We cannot let an aircraft simply vanish'

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Following the loss of Air France flight 447 and now Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, another airliner cannot be allowed to "simply vanish".

That is the view of International Air Transport Association director general and chief executive officer Tony Tyler, speaking in Kuala Lumpur at IATA's annual operations conference. He says a viable process for tracking aircraft in airspace beyond radar coverage must be agreed by December this year.

The IATA chief cautions against undue haste, however. "In our eagerness to move this along, we must also ensure that prudent decisions are made in line with global standards. This is not the time for hastily prepared sales pitches or regional solutions," he says. "The International Civil Aviation Organization process is the way to move this forward. I have no doubt that governments are eager to come to a conclusion and take action as soon as possible."

Tyler warns that speculating as to the cause of MH370's loss is pointless, but adds: "There are, however, at least two areas of process – aircraft tracking and passenger data – where there are clearly challenges that need to be overcome."

He continues: "MH370 has highlighted the need to improve our tracking of aircraft in flight. Air France 447 brought similar issues to light a few years ago and some progress was made, but that must be accelerated. We cannot let another aircraft simply vanish."

Tyler says IATA will convene an expert task force, that will include ICAO. "This group will examine all of the options available for tracking commercial aircraft against the parameters of implementation, investment, time and complexity to achieve the desired coverage. This group will report its conclusions by December 2014, reflecting the need for urgent action and careful analysis," he says.

On passenger data – in a clear reference to the fact that two passengers on MH370 were found to have been carrying stolen passports – Tyler adds: "It is important to remember that airlines are not border guards or policemen. The checking of passports is the well-established responsibility of governments. The industry goes to great effort and expense to ensure that governments have reliable information about passengers before an aircraft takes off. Governments need to review their processes for vetting and using this data, such as Interpol’s stolen and lost passport database."

AF447, an Airbus A330, went missing over the South Atlantic ocean in 2009, while MH370, a Boeing 777, was lost over the southern Indian Ocean on 8 March. A search continues to locate and identify the suspected wreckage.