The Straits Times says

Ensure aviation enigmas do not arise

Two years after the baffling disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, the trauma it created continues to haunt the families of the victims. This is true of all accidents, but the inability to unravel the mystery of how the flight went missing prevents the closure that families need in order to move on. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's pledge to keep trying to solve the case, within his country's means, and the determination of the head of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau to complete the search underscores its impact on the nations involved. It is a massive effort and nearly three quarters of the search area has been covered. That narrows the field considerably and has given rise to hopes that the plane would be found in the next four months. It took two years to locate the debris of an Air France plane that went missing over the Atlantic in 2009. The main issue is that countries must persevere when global aviation is hit by a mystery of this magnitude and cost. It simply cannot remain unsolved as that would leave doubts about the much touted promise of aviation's superior safety standards.

One positive outcome of the controversy surrounding Flight MH370 is the decision by the International Civil Aviation Organisation to endorse a new standard that will require commercial aircraft to report their position every 15 minutes. The guideline, which ICAO is seeking to bring into force in November this year, is one part of a proposal to ensure that planes can be tracked and accident sites located quickly. Another initiative would ensure that planes are equipped with tracking devices that can independently transmit the location of the aircraft at least once a minute in case of an emergency. Yet another guideline would help with the timely recovery of flight recorder data. This three-pronged approach - routine flight tracking, distress tracking, and data retrieval - promises to make ICAO's Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System a genuine contribution to international aviation.

The tragedy of Flight MH370 should strengthen the international community's resolve to treat airline safety as a pressing common problem. Certainly, airlines and aircraft manufacturers bear responsibility as well, and there are instances where pilot error is the cause of accidents. However, every crash has a wider impact. It dents the confidence required in the overall workings of the aviation sector. MH370 exposed a structural flaw in the commercial aviation system which had allowed airlines to have innumerable planes operating in diverse networks, without knowing the precise location of the aircraft at all times. This will not do. Singapore has decided to implement the 15-minute rule on July 1 for local carriers such as Singapore Airlines. Such alacrity highlights the emphasis placed by the nation on adhering to the highest aviation standards.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 11, 2016, with the headline 'Ensure aviation enigmas do not arise'. Subscribe