IATA: Emirates sceptical over tracking debate

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Middle Eastern carrier Emirates’ chief is unconvinced that flight-tracking is the core issue to be addressed in the wake of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines’ flight MH370.

Emirates Airline president Tim Clark said that aircraft were already closely tracked, pointing out that the carrier’s operations centre would instantly know if one of its aircraft lost contact.

Clark believes that an individual with specific knowledge of aircraft systems – particularly the procedure to disengage ACARS transmissions – initiated the sequence of events that led the Malaysian Boeing 777 to vanish on 8 March.

“The root cause is where to go,” he says.

A number of Emirates aircraft were in close proximity to MH370 as it strayed from its course to Beijing and crossed the Malay peninsula to the Malacca Strait.

While none of the Emirates crews saw the aircraft, Clark says they heard air traffic control attempting to contact MH370 directly and calling other flights in an effort to locate the jet.

Clark spoke shortly before IATA senior vice-president of safety Kevin Hiatt detailed progress on the aircraft tracking task force, during the association’s AGM in Doha.

IATA has been pursuing development of a global flight-tracking strategy since the loss of MH370, and Hiatt says the task force will put its findings to ICAO in September, and to the IATA operations committee in October.

Over 30 vendors, says Hiatt, have presented industry options to address flight-tracking. “A one-size solution may not fit all,” he adds, pointing out that airlines’ differing operations might need different strategies. IATA is looking at “performance-based” options, he says, rather than a “prescriptive” approach.

Hiatt acknowledges that there multiple considerations – not least the question of cost – and says that, while manufacturers “can potentially make the system tamper-proof”, there are “diverse opinions” over the wisdom of preventing any disabling of tracking capability.

While investigators suspect deliberate involvement in the disappearance of MH370, Hiatt insists the pursuit of flight-tracking is not a “knee-jerk reaction” to a rare event, adding: “If you get to the real bottom line, we’re going to figure out a way to aid that [aircraft location] process.”