KUALA LUMPUR - The aviation industry should consider technology allowing more live-streaming of flight data following the disappearance of a Malaysian jetliner, but cost and practicalities remain major problems, the head of the global airlines' body said on Tuesday.
The loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 more than three weeks ago has renewed interest in the possibility of in-flight streaming of "black box" data that could help locate aircraft and enable accident investigations to begin sooner.
"The technology exists now to do it, but it is not clear how practical it would be," Tony Tyler, director general and chief executive of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), told reporters at a news conference in Kuala Lumpur. "To have every aircraft streaming all date at every phase of the flight, can it be managed or would it simply overwhelm us?" No confirmed wreckage has been found from MH370, which vanished less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing on March 8 with 239 people on board.
All investigators have had to go on in locating the aircraft are hourly electronic "handshakes" exchanged with a commercial satellite for around six hours after the Boeing 777's communication systems stopped transmitting.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced after 17 days that the plane "ended" in the southern Indian Ocean after analysis of that satellite and radar data by Britain's Inmarsat . "IATA will be doing what we can to get that issue looked at thoroughly and some decisions made after," said Tyler.
The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has said it was studying the possibility of live-streaming data, but Tyler said a broad consensus would be needed between airlines, major manufacturers and regulators. "It's very important that if we're going to have regulation covering this area, that it's done on a globally consistent basis," said Tyler, who joined IATA in 2011 after five years as chief executive of Cathay Pacific Airways.
Tyler also defended Malaysia Airlines from the criticism it faced after it emerged two passengers had boarded the plane using stolen passports. This was a focus of the investigation at an early stage, before authorities said the men were probably asylum seekers and ruled out any links with terrorism.
He said airlines were spending "millions" to provide passenger information in advance to governments who required it. "Governments should use it to facilitate border controls and to make these controls very effective," he said.