Why It Matters

Avoiding repeat of MH370

Every day, airlines operate 100,000 flights, a good number of them over vast oceans and in remote areas of the world.

It wasn't until Malaysia Airlines' Flight MH370 went missing in March last year that the question of whether and how these flights are tracked became a focus for the aviation industry. Over 16 months after the tragedy took 239 lives and with $150 million spent on search operations, no wreckage has been found and the disappearance remains a mystery. More alarming is that the Boeing 777 jet flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing apparently flew for about seven hours without any contact with the airline or air traffic controllers before its fatal plunge.

While planes are regularly tracked with radar or other technology when flying in populated areas, this is not so when the flight is over vast oceans and in remote areas. To address the gaps, the global aviation community, led by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) - a United Nations arm that oversees global commercial aviation, expects to endorse and adopt by the year end a proposal which would require airlines from all its 191 member states to ensure that their planes are tracked every 15 minutes. They will take about two to three years to do what they must.

For many carriers like Singapore Airlines, which fly new aircraft, complying would require software and technology enhancements but no major modifications to their fleets. The challenge will be for airlines which operate older planes. The global airline body, the International Air Transport Association, has already flagged this as a concern.

For now - and as it rightly should - the ICAO is standing firm, its secretary-general Raymond Benjamin told The Straits Times last Friday. The industry must give the proposal its full backing, and airlines that can move faster to implement tracking measures must do so as a matter of urgency.

This is to ensure there is never another incident like MH370.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2015, with the headline 'Avoiding repeat of MH370'. Print Edition | Subscribe