Stasis on Plane Tracking

In “Dumber and Dumbest — Where is Flight MH370?,” I argued that it is criminal stupidity for airlines to fail to track their planes. The technology for satellite tracking of jetliners exists today. Laptops, smartphones and many other devices can be located by their wireless connections. Allowing planes to disappear, simply because the flight crew, or some hostile party, turned off the radio makes about as much sense as taping a Post-It with the combination to the outside of a safe. Despite the ease of corrective action, a year after Flight MH370 disappeared, nothing is being done.

In “ICAO to Address Delays in Universal Airliner-Tracking Efforts,” on February 1, 2015, the Wall Street Journal reported that the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations specialized agency, intended to demand aircraft tracking at the Second High-level Safety Conference (HLSC2015) February 2-5, 2015 at ICAO Headquarters, in Montréal, Canada. However, when the meeting adjourned it was reported that the conferees expressed their commitment to “promptly implementing the Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System (GADSS) concepts of operations, including normal tracking every fifteen minutes and distress tracking every minute;” and to “finalize the GADSS concept for global tracking and lead the conduct of an implementation initiative using existing technologies.” In other words, they promised to promptly start thinking about a plan to track airliners.

In the language of international conferring, “promptly” means absolutely nothing without a deadline. Conferees use “promptly” the way Millennials use “like.” It has no effect except to lower the signal-to-noise ratio. The other clue that nothing will be done is the phrase “using existing technologies.” By definition, “existing technologies” are not providing real-time tracking of jetliners and cargo planes. Therefore, nothing will be done until new technologies come on line, if a340

Why is there no progress? The International Air Transport Association, the trade association of airlines, opposes real-time tracking of airplanes and has stood in the way. According to The Telegraph, in “Mapped: One Year on from Mh370, All the Planes Which Have Disappeared since 1948,” on April 5, 2015, there have been 105 passenger-flight disappearances causing 1,615 fatalities since 1948.  Despite this, the IATA considers it more cost-effective to lose a couple of planes a year than to spend $25,000 to $50,000 per plane (0.1% to 0.5% of the cost of a new jetliner) to outfit them for continuous satellite tracking.

The airlines could start by building-in the capacity for plane tracking in new airplane purchases and communication overhauls. An incremental approach like that would not be prohibitively expensive and the increased use would help to bring down the cost of the system. That would be a huge improvement over a commitment to “promptly implementing” global tracking with “existing technologies.”

John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200

©2015 John B. Payne, Attorney