Why We Still Can't Track an Airplane

The second case of a commercial aircraft lost at sea in 2014 means more pressure on airlines to devise a global tracking system

An Indonesian Air Force C-130 crew member scans the horizon during a search operation for the missing AirAsia Flight 8501 over the waters of Karimata Strait on Dec. 29.

Photographer: Dita Alangkara/AP Photo

The disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines jumbo jet last March shocked many people unaware that such a thing could happen. That event, combined with Sunday's loss of a second commercial aircraft over the Java Sea (debris from the plane is now being recovered), is spurring calls for more precise, “persistent” tracking of commercial airline flights. For airlines, the real question is how to balance the costs of a locator system that's almost never needed against the hard fact that Airbus A320s and Boeing 777s cannot be allowed to vanish without a trace. 

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