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Commercial passenger air travel industry groups released a report on global flight-tracking recommendations and standards on Wednesday, December 10, 2014 with adoption by February 2015. (Photo Credit: Associated Press, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER departing).

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) held a news conference at its Geneva headquarters Wednesday, announcing the report recommendations on global flight-tracking for its 240 member airlines. IATA’s 240 member airlines encompass 84% of international passenger air traffic.

Early next year, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) plans to convene a high-level safety meeting in Montreal, Canada, to approve a concept of operations for global flight-tracking, and to move forward in developing a global flight-tracking standard by February 2015. Additionally, ICAO plans to publish in 2016 its global flight-tracking standards.

Background and Motivation of IATA Aircraft Tracking Task Force Recommendations

Upon the MH370 aviation tragedy on March 8, the Aircraft Tracking Task Force (ATTF) was announced on April 1, 2014 by IATA Director General and CEO Tony Tyler at the IATA Operations Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The 20-member ATTF group, comprising representatives from ICAO, IATA, the airline industry representatives and airline pilots, crafted their recommendations on global tracking of aircraft in a report released Wednesday, December 10. Kevin Hiatt, IATA Senior Vice President for safety and flight operations, chaired the ATTF’s work.

Specifically, the ATTF included representatives from IATA, ICAO, Airlines for America, Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines, the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization, Flight Safety Foundation, International Coordinating Council of Aerospace Industries Associations, International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Airbus SAS, Bombardier Aerospace, and Embraer Commercial Aviation.

The ATTF was an accelerated initiative of IATA and ICAO in the wake of 283 passengers and 15 Malaysia Airlines crew lost on board the recent MH17 aviation disaster on July 17, compounding atop the 227 passengers and 12 Malaysia Airlines crew lost on board the MH370 aviation tragedy on March 8.

The ATTF first meeting followed the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Special Meeting on Aircraft Flight Tracking, on May 12-13, 2014 in Montreal, Canada.

The United Nations agency says it is moving quickly to improve the global tracking of airline flights, through a series of ICAO recommendations in place in September.

Nancy Graham, the director of ICAO’s Air Navigation Bureau, has widely expressed to news agencies that “the bulk of the global air fleet has the tracking capabilities, but that changes in hardware, software, and procedures must be made,” according to The Canadian Press. She says “any changes would not be terribly expensive or difficult.”

Shortly afterwards, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) held an “Expert Dialogue” on real-time monitoring of flight data in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on May 25-27, 2014.

The primary goal of the ATTF was to report recommendations of global flight-tracking, not surveillance, of international commercial passenger airliners, as well as, assess available means of global flight-tracking (including costs, “big data” management, and flight data performance analysis typically-used for airline operations and governance decisions).

The ATTF report recommendations were initially drafted September 2014 for approval by the airline industry prior to the final report brief to reporters at the IATA Geneva headquarters on Wednesday, December 10, so that going forward no airliner disappears ever again.

“The ATTF recommendations are general and mostly aimed at ensuring that aircraft operators, air navigation providers, and tracking and communications service providers evaluate their tracking capabilities against baseline performance-based criteria and implement technologies that exist to fill any gaps in the global commercial airspace,” summarizes Air Transport World.

Air Transport World further adds: “The ATTF report urges that any future ICAO aircraft tracking standards are sufficiently broad so that industry can make best use of existing and emerging technologies appropriate to their operation.”

Commercial passenger airlines, upon the ATTF recommendations, will be in control to decide about how to best track their airliners based on their operations, including performance-based flight data being transmitted back to them real-time around the globe, including over transatlantic, transpacific, and transpolar remote regions of the world.

Currently, neither the airlines nor air traffic control have adequate airliner real-time position awareness over oceanic regions. About 80% of wide-body airliners flying over long periods across transatlantic, transpacific, and transpolar oceanic routes are equipped with the Future Air Navigation Systems (FANS) to communicate with oceanic air traffic controllers, the airliner’s automatic dependent surveillance-contract (ADS-C) position. The terms of an ADS-C agreement outline the means upon which flight navigation is communicated or exchanged between the ground system and the aircraft cockpit, via a data link, specifying under what conditions ADS-C reports may be initiated, and what data may be contained in the reports.

MH370’s Boeing 777-200 airliner and AF447’s Airbus A330-200 airliner were equipped with ADS-C position reporting. Additional airliner reporting can be acquired over satellite networks using the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS).

“ATTF’s recommendations are not mandatory and they do not include any near-term advice to make aircraft transponders tamper-proof,” says Air Transport World. When MH370 disappeared from air traffic control radar screens on March 8, unfortunately, the Boeing 777-200 airliner was set in basic radar control, eliminating the need for ADS-C remote position reporting. “MH370’s disappearance has raised questions over whether transponders should be made tamper-proof,” adds Air Transport World.

By definition, aircraft surveillance, being an air traffic control concern, maintains separation between aircraft. In contrast, aircraft flight-tracking, being the ATTF’s focus, determines at any point in time where an airliner is during its flight from departure takeoff to arrival destination landing.

The Malaysian flag carrier’s Boeing 777-200ER, Registration Number 9M-MRO, performing as Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, disappeared early morning March 8 with 227 passengers and 12 Malaysia Airlines crew members on board en route from Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Beijing International Airport.

It is generally alleged the massive airliner was in its remaining catastrophic moments (including recent speculations of either a hijacking or a massive on-board fire, originating from a 440 pound large supply of highly flammable lithium-ion batteries inside the cargo hold), when the airliner was radar tracked, as it flew far off-course from its intended flight path. Then, turning suddenly back towards the Straits of Malacca, after which the massive Boeing 777-200 airliner is alleged to have mysteriously last flown into the southern Indian Ocean off the coast of Western Australia, experts and search investigators generally believe at this point.

On December 3, Australian Transport Safety Bureau issued an update on the search, saying that “more than 185,000 square kilometers have been surveyed. More than 8,000 square kilometers of the seafloor have been searched so far, reports the Epoch Times.

Despite deep oceanic underwater searches scouring over 8000 square kilometers of Indian Ocean floor, focused on the priority search area off the coast of western Australia, no trace of the airliner has been found.

Epoch Times added: “Australia is also working on new drift modeling to determine if and when wreckage from the missing plane will come on shore. Initial analysis found that the first Flight 370 debris would appear on Indonesian shores after about 123 days.”

“We are currently working … to see if we can get an updated drift model for a much wider area where there might be possibilities of debris washing ashore,” MH370 search coordinator Peter Foley recently stated to Reuters more than a week ago.

Global flight-tracking is additionally an international call-for-action in the wake of the MH17 aviation disaster for the commercial passenger airline’s trade group, IATA, and the United Nation’s commercial passenger airline’s policy group, ICAO, to consult, to counsel, to advise, and to warn sovereign states to establish clearer commercial passenger risk management policies and guidelines, like those of British Airways, for restricted flight paths over known war zones by commercial passenger aircraft.

A second Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200, Registration Number 9M-MRD,operating as Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, with 283 passengers and 15 Malaysia Airlines crew on board went down on the morning of July 17 in war-torn eastern Ukraine — allegedly hit by a surface-to-air missile or allegedly hit by a military jet fighter — killing all 298 souls on board.

Speculation swirls as experts of the European air traffic control regulator, Eurocontrol, speaking unofficially “urged Kiev to close the southeast of Ukraine for civilian aircraft days before the MH17 flight was downed near Donetsk, but the plea was ignored by local authorities,” unnamed sources in the organization told the Sunday Times newspaper.

Sadly, Eurocontrol had the Ukrainian war zone open to commercial air travel at the time MH17 was tragically thrown out of the sky. Malaysian officials said ICAO had approved the route the doomed MH17 airliner took. However, this appears to be a misreading of what exactly the ICAO does. ICAO issues advisories only through rule-making standards, such as global flight-tracking, based on civil airline business decisions taken by its delegates, rather than mandating to its members what to do in commercial passenger airline travel.

APPENDIX

Road Map to Global Flight-Tracking Standards 2014, as chronicled in Aviation Week.

March 8 • MH370 disappears from radar over the Gulf of Thailand en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing, China.

March 31- April 2 • International Air Transport Association (IATA) convenes Operations Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and creates Aircraft Tracking Task Force (ATTF) to focus on identifying near-term options for global tracking of aircraft, including a concept of operations (Conops).

May 12-13 • International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) holds Special Meeting for Global Flight Tracking in Montreal, Canada, and reaches consensus to track all airline aircraft. • IATA agrees to early voluntary implementation; ICAO to develop standards in parallel, while developing global standard on a parallel track.

May 26-27 • International Telecommunications Union (ITU) holds Expert Dialogue on real-time monitoring of flight data in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. • ITU asked to provide necessary spectrum allocations for emerging flight-data monitoring needs and work with ICAO to implement it.

June 11-13 • IATA ATTF holds first formal meeting and launches effort to define current state of flight-tracking with member and non-member airlines, air navigation service providers.

September • IATA ATTF presents preliminary Conops for global flight-tracking to ICAO in Montreal, Canada.

December 10, 2014 • IATA communicates ATTF findings to member airlines.

2015 February• ICAO to hold high-level safety meeting in Montreal, Canada to approve Conops from ATTF and move forward in developing a global flight-tracking standard.

2016 • ICAO to publish global flight-tracking standards.

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