MH370 Tragedy: UN leads effort to improve plane tracking

MH370 Tragedy: UN leads effort to improve plane tracking

PARIS - The United Nations is leading a high-level effort this week to improve the way aircraft are tracked to address public concerns over the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet.

But the official response to missing Flight MH370 and a similar event in 2009 has already been clouded by rows between planemakers, airlines and pilots about costs and surveillance, new documents show, raising questions about how fast regulators can act.

Papers issued as a European agency toughened guidelines for black-box flight recorders last week show disputes about the economic and safety benefits, as manufacturers urged delay and pilots resisted pressure for more cockpit monitoring.

The European consultation process on black-box design is the latest case study of the conflicting interests that can arise whenever aviation safety is discussed internationally.

Experts say some of the same issues will be on regulators' minds when the UN's International Civil Aviation Organization meets this week to discuss flight tracking - an issue which has seen limited progress since the loss of Air France Flight 447 in 2009.

Tracking and black-box recovery are inter-dependent because poor tracking can increase the time and costs for recovery.

"Safety is not something you can argue against, but airlines have a healthy distrust of regulators and if they don't see the cost/benefit arguments that are put forward making sense, they will say so," said aviation safety consultant Paul Hayes.

"On the other hand, the people who build equipment want to be certain there is market for it and they usually want a common standard to ... reduce their costs," said Hayes, director of safety at UK-based consultancy Flightglobal Ascend.

A case in point is the European Aviation Safety Agency's proposal last week to increase the maximum amount of recording time on cockpit voice recorders to 20 hours from two hours.

Flight MH370 is suspected of crashing in the Indian Ocean up to seven hours after it went missing on March 8, meaning it may never be possible to hear what happened at a crucial point.

According to the documents, Airbus questioned why Europe should go out on a limb after the United States reaffirmed the two-hour rule four years earlier.

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