Call for real-time tracking of planes

Report on disappearance of airline recommends new measure

Malaysian Airline System Bhd. (MAS) aircraft stand at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Malaysian Airline System Bhd. (MAS) aircraft stand at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.


Real-time tracking of passenger aircraft should be considered by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a preliminary report on the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 recommends.

An accompanying document also released by the Malaysian government reveals details of attempts to track the Boeing 777 in the hours immediately following its disappearance from radar screens.

MH370 disappeared shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur at 12.41am on March 8th, bound for Beijing, with 239 people on board. Investigators believe it was deliberately diverted but say they have not ruled out other possibilities.

Vietnamese air traffic control began asking about the whereabouts of the flight at 1.38am local time after it disappeared from their radar screens.

Aircraft normally communicate with the ground via transponders – which send signals to ground-based radars – and Acars systems. In the case of MH370, both of those systems appear to have been disabled around the time that the flight disappeared. Its last Acars message was at 1.07am and the last transponder contact at 1.21am.

Last “handshake”
But the Acars system continued to make contact with satellites, and data shows that it flew on for several hours, with the last “handshake” at 8.19am. Specialist analysis of those contacts led Malaysia Airlines to announce weeks ago it believed MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean with the loss of all lives.

Some experts have suggested that flight data and cockpit voice recorders should stream information to the ground during flights. Others have asked if it should be made impossible to disable transponders.

Malaysia Airlines has announced it will close the family support centres it set up in hotels in Kuala Lumpur and Beijing within the week, and urged relatives to await further news “within the comfort of their own homes, with the support and care of their families and friends”.

Its chief executive, Ahmed Jauhari Yahya, said the company was “acutely conscious of and deeply sympathetic to the continuing unimaginable anguish, distress and hardship suffered by those with loved ones on board the flight”. The airline said it would make advance compensation payments to the relatives, which would not affect their rights to claim compensation at a later stage.

Black boxes
Last month search teams picked up signals they believe came from the aircraft’s black boxes far off the west coast of Australia. However the flight data and cockpit voice recorders have yet to be found.

This week the aerial search for wreckage was called off on the assumption that any debris would have sunk already. The head of the Australian centre overseeing operations said they would be “doing well” if they completed an expanded search of the seabed within eight months. – (Guardian service)