Najib calls for overhaul of global aircraft communication requirements

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak (above) has called for an overhaul in aircraft communication system requirements for the global aviation industry to prevent incidents such as the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and Air Fran
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak (above) has called for an overhaul in aircraft communication system requirements for the global aviation industry to prevent incidents such as the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and Air France Flight 447 from happening again. -- PHOTO: EPA  

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has called for an overhaul in aircraft communication system requirements for the global aviation industry to prevent incidents such as the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and Air France Flight 447 from happening again.

In an editorial in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Datuk Seri Najib also defended Malaysia's response to the disppearance of MH370, saying the search operation was activated faster than that for Air France flight 447 in 2009.

The Malaysian leader said there are lessons from the MH370 incident that could be learnt not just by Malaysia, but also the global aviation industry.

He called for the industry to consider changing communications systems - namely transponders and Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting Systems (Acars) - so that they could not be disabled mid-air.

Cockpit voice recorders, he said, should also have longer recording time. Currently, only the last two hours of cockpit conversation are recorded, which means communications in the minutes and hours after a plane first vanished would not be available.

Blackbox pingers - which are activated if an aircraft crashes - should last for at least 90 days, instead of 30 days , in order to help search teams locate the wreckage.

Another lesson is that there should be real-time tracking of airliners, he added.

Mr Najib said these changes are long overdue especially in an age of smartphones and mobile Internet.

"These changes may not have prevented the MH370 or Air France 447 tragedies," he said. "But they would make it harder for an aircraft to simply disappear, and easier to find any aircraft that did."

MH370 disappeared in the early hours of March 8 with 239 passengers and crew onboard. Satellite data suggested that the Beijing-bound jetliner had made a sharp turn across peninsular Malaysia and headed towards the southern Indian Ocean where it is believed to have gone down. Despite a massive search involving some 26 nations, no wreckage has been found so far.

Mr Najib admitted that the Malaysian government "didn't get everything right" in the search for the MH370.

"In the first few days after the plane disappeared, we were so focused on trying to find the aircraft that we did not prioritise our communications.

"Also, it took air-traffic controllers four hours to launch the search-and-rescue operation. But the plane vanished at a moment- between two countries' air-traffic controls - that caused maximum confusion,'' he said in the editorial.

"Despite this, the search began about a third quicker than during the Air France Flight 447 tragedy in 2009. Nevertheless, the response time should and will be investigated.''

He pledged that Malaysia will keep searching for the plane for as long as it takes and will continue facilitating the independent investigation.

"In the passage of time, I believe Malaysia will be credited for doing its best under near-impossible circumstances. It is no small feat for a country the size of ours to overcome diplomatic and military sensitivities and bring 26 different countries together to conduct one of the world's largest peacetime search operations."

yyennie@sph.com.sg