IATA: Cockpit vulnerability remains key flight-track issue

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Cockpit deactivation remains a vulnerability yet to be addressed in the IATA debate over flight-tracking spurred by the disappearance of Malaysia AirlinesBoeing 777.

While the inquiry has yet to locate the aircraft and determine the cause of its loss, investigators already suspect that routine systems used for transmitting identification and position data were deliberately disengaged.

Qatar Airways chief Akbar Al Baker, in his role as president of the IATA annual meeting in Doha, said that future precautions would mean “nobody on an aircraft will be able to switch off any [tracking] system”.

But a consensus has yet to be reached on tracking requirements and the crucial matter of system deactivation.

SITA has been promoting a new flight-tracking capability during the IATA show, but acknowledges that its system “can be switched off in the cockpit” – an option designed to protect against fire.

It points out, however, that its system will alert airlines more quickly to the possibility of an unexpected deviation from the flightpath.

“They would no longer receive tracking and monitoring information according to the parameters they had established,” says SITA. If the carrier had set a specific transmission interval, it would be alerted if data did not arrive when expected.

“With the new system the airline no longer needs to rely on an external third party to relay this information to them, because they receive the same information themselves directly,” adds SITA.

Air France, which suffered the loss of an Airbus A330 over the Atlantic five years ago, says it “intends to be a driving force” behind the IATA working group studying flight tracking.

It says it has already implemented a “particularly efficient” tracing system which relays information every 10min to Air France’s operations control centre.

In the event of an abnormal deviation the reporting interval is reduced to just 1min. Partner KLM has also opted to make similar changes to its automatic position-reporting system.

Satellite communications specialist Inmarsat has also put forward an aircraft-tracking initiative and Air France says it is “showing interest” in the proposal, which is based on a 15min communication interval between the aircraft and the satellite network.

“We intend to emphasise the need to establish a common stance across the airline industry on the real-time tracking of aircraft flightpaths,” says Air France-KLM chief Alexandre de Juniac. “The measures we have already implemented in this field are efficient and easy to apply.”