Airline chiefs are as stunned as the public by the disappearance of a Malaysian airliner and the failure of efforts to locate the wide-body plane even after six days of searching, the head of industry group IATA said.
“Everyone is very surprised that it could happen like this and we share that surprise,” International Air Transport Association Chief Executive Officer Tony Tyler said. “The fact that an aircraft has disappeared we all find extraordinary.”
Tyler said yesterday that the lost plane should prompt the industry to examine the case for real-time data downloads able to constantly track aircraft positions, and he added today in London that even once the Boeing Co. 777 is found the time that it’s been missing poses issues for the entire industry.
“An incident like this raises a lot of questions, some for the airlines, some for the manufacturers and many for governments and air navigation service providers,” he said. “Whatever is eventually found to be the truth behind what has happened, these questions need to be answered.”
IATA, which includes 240 airlines accounting for 84 percent of global traffic, will respond to the loss of the Malaysian Airline System Bhd. plane by tapping a unique “convening power” provided by its breadth of membership to instigate an evaluation of constant data streaming, Tyler said in an interview.
Efforts would most likely be led by Kevin Hiatt, who joined IATA as senior vice president for safety and flight operations last month, said Tyler, who has led the industry group since 2011, when he stood down as CEO of Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., Asia’s No. 1 international carrier.
Hiatt was previously CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation, an independent organization that acts as a global advocate for aviation safety, and before that worked at Delta Air Lines Inc., where he was chief pilot, international operations.
With Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting Systems already routinely sending information mid-flight, the industry must consider how much more can be properly monitored real-time, Tyler said, adding that the focus could be narrowed to agreed data subsets or transmissions that would be triggered automatically under exceptional circumstances.
“Aircraft can be in constant communication with the ground all the time if they want to,” Tyler said. “So the question will be should they not do that, so that if an aircraft does go missing we know where it is.”
France’s crash investigator said after the search for Air France Flight 447, which disappeared in the Mid-Atlantic in 2009, that the industry should consider mandating real-time speed, altitude and location transmissions.
Tyler said the level of interest in Malaysian Flight 370, which was carrying 239 people, is an inevitable response to the way the plane vanished so completely over the Gulf of Thailand a short time into its trip from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
“It does seem extraordinary in these days of satellite technology and communications that an aircraft can just disappear,” he said. “If there is an incident like this people ask lots of questions. I would not like to single out Asia as being particularly sensitive to this kind of thing.”
Past experience suggests any impact the plane’s loss has on demand for travel will most likely be short-lived, Tyler said.
“Mankind wants to travel and aviation is just about the safest way of doing that, despite this tragedy,” he said. “Whatever the outcome I think we will see steps being taken to make sure this can’t happen.”