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Industry group seeks continuous flight tracking

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 1, 2014 at 8:17 pm •  Published: April 1, 2014

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — An aviation industry group is creating a task force to make recommendations this year for continuously tracking commercial airliners because "we cannot let another aircraft simply vanish" like Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

As low clouds, rain and choppy seas off western Australia hampered Tuesday's hunt for the missing jet, the head of the operation warned that the 25-day-old search "could drag on for a long time," and Malaysian investigators said they were scrutinizing the last-known conversation between the plane and ground control.

The search has turned up no sign of the Boeing 777, which vanished March 8 with 239 people aboard bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. A multinational team of aircraft and ships are searching the southern Indian Ocean for the plane, which disappeared from radar and veered off-course for reasons that are still unexplained.

The aviation mystery has highlighted the need for improvements in tracking aircraft and security, according to the International Air Transport Association, a trade association for the world's airlines meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

"In a world where our every move seems to be tracked, there is disbelief that an aircraft could simply disappear," said Tony Tyler, the director general of the group whose 240 member airlines carry 84 percent of all passengers and cargo worldwide.

"We cannot let another aircraft simply vanish," he said in announcing the high-level task force to make recommendations on tracking commercial aircraft.

But the Air Line Pilots Association, the world's biggest pilot union, warned that live-streaming of information from the flight data recorder, as an alternative to the current black boxes, could lead to the release or leak of clues that could make pilots look bad before all the facts about an accident are known.

"That data is there for safety analysis," said Sean Cassidy, an ALPA officer and a pilot with Alaska Airlines. "Unfortunately, if you have this massive wave of data that's getting out there — if it's not safeguarded and protected — there's going to be a real rush to judgment, especially towards the pilots in event of an accident."

ALPA said if the goal is to better track airplanes, the answer is a beefed-up, satellite-based navigation system called NextGen.

In Washington, a congressman is considering introducing a bill that would require the installation of second black box as a backup measure on new commercial passenger aircraft that are used on longer flights, over oceans or in remote locations. The devices, known as deployable flight recorders, would eject before a crash to make them easier to find, and can be designed to float and transmit a signal to searchers.

At a March 12 congressional hearing, Rep. David Price said the disappearance of Flight 370 had once again demonstrated the need for such devices, which are costly, but could save time and money by providing critical data to help explain a crash. His spokesman, Andrew High, said the North Carolina Democrat is considering re-introducing a bill he sponsored several years ago.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said his department is conducting a cost-benefit analysis of the recorders, but has not made any commitments.

Tyler, the IATA director general, also urged improvements in screening passengers before boarding.

The presence of two men on the Malaysia Airlines flight with stolen passports had raised speculation of a possible terrorist link, but it is now thought they were asylum seekers bound for Europe. Nonetheless, Tyler said their easy access to the flight "rings alarm bells."

Malaysia's government, responding to repeated media requests, released a transcript of the conversation between Flight 370 and air traffic control, which showed normal exchanges as the pilots requested clearance for takeoff, reported it had reached cruising altitude and left Malaysian airspace.

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