KUALA LUMPUR - Major airlines want real-time tracking for commercial aircraft following the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and cost is not a concern, a senior official with the United Nations' aviation agency said on Monday.
The mystery surrounding MH370, which vanished en route to China, has sparked a global drive for a system that would enable controllers to pinpoint the exact route and last location of an aircraft. A nearly three-month-long international search has so far failed to find any trace of the Malaysian plane.
Members of the International Civil Aviation Organisation's (ICAO) governing council agreed earlier this month on the need for global tracking, although they did not commit to a binding solution or timeline.
Instead, the global airline industry group, International Air Transport Association (IATA), agreed to come up with proposals for better tracking by the end of September. IATA said its members would implement measures voluntarily, before any rules were in place.
"In principle the community has agreed. There's no question this is something we need to do," Nancy Graham, director of ICAO's Air Navigation Bureau, told reporters in Kuala Lumpur. "We are developing the voluntary path and a rule for the future. We intend to have regulation to support that globally."
Asked whether the cost of implementing new standards was a stumbling block for airlines, Graham said: "Not at all, they're absolutely in solidarity. There's no price you can put on safety or certainty on where the aircraft are."
Graham was speaking at the start of a two-day experts'conference sponsored by Malaysia's government on real-time monitoring of flight data. The meeting will not decide on flight-tracking reforms, but could generate new proposals.
Experts say the technology to implement real-time tracking is available and relatively simple, but some aspects have raised concerns about data privacy from pilots, aircraft manufacturers and airlines.
Inmarsat Group, a satellite company whose data helped track MH370, has offered to provide airlines with tracking at no cost. Rival firms such as Iridium Communications, however, say outfitting a jet with the tracking system could cost more than $100,000.
Malaysian investigators suspect someone shut off MH370's data links making the plane impossible to track, prompting Prime Minister Najib Razak to call for the ICAO to adopt real-time tracking of civilian aircraft.
The flight, a Boeing 777 jet, vanished from civilian radar screens less than an hour after take-off from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing on March 8.