(ITU) Challenges lie ahead for real-time flight data tracking
By Kim Eun-jung
BUSAN, Nov. 5 (Yonhap) - The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) took one step forward in aviation safety by supporting a resolution on real-time flight data tracking to prevent incidents like the missing Malaysian airplane, but challenges lie ahead over technology requirements and geopolitical risks, member states said Wednesday.
The specialized United Nations agency for telecommunications last week passed a resolution to improve global flight tracking for civil aviation after a massive international hunt had failed to turn up any traces of a Malaysia Airlines jet that went missing in March with 239 people on board.
The resolution instructs the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC), which administers radio spectrum and satellite orbit under the ITU, to put global flight tracking on its agenda at its next conference in November 2015 in Switzerland.
Weeks after the missing airplane, Malaysia urged the ITU to work with industries to develop a better way to constantly monitor flight data by using advanced technology to retrieve and analyze aviation data without necessarily locating the flight data recorder, known as the black box.
All commercial airlines are currently required to install the black box to monitor the flight so as to provide investigators with vital clues about the causes of any accidents should they occur.
"Malaysia's intention is for the dialogue to start in 2015, as we feel very strongly that we cannot wait until 2019 for this to start," the Malaysian delegation said on Oct. 23 at a committee meeting during the 19th ITU Plenipotentiary Conference under way here. "We understand precisely that it will take time. There are technical details to be dealt with. We have to respect all forms of appropriate and relevant provisions which are contained in the constitution of the ITU."
The ITU does not provide the name or title of a country's delegates in its meeting documents, working under the assumption that the attendants represent the stances their governments or organizations.
The mysterious Malaysian incident spurred worldwide discussions on global flight tracking and the need for coordinated action with relevant organizations.
With growing calls to take urgent action, the ITU in June formed a focus group to study ways to use "aviation cloud" for real-time monitoring of flight data and related issues such as protection, security and ownership of the data and policies to govern access to them.
During this year's conference, member states agreed on the need for efforts at international level and called for thorough preparations to move forward discussions on radio frequency spectrum and requirements for safety systems.
"Unfortunate events have spurred debate on the need to improve security for commercial aviation through using the most modern, the most recent technology, which would cover the oceans and those areas where there is no terrestrial coverage," the Malaysian delegation said during the meeting. "This undoubtedly would be necessary, but I do not think that we should act only in reaction to unfortunate events. We want to ensure that these tools, which would guarantee maximum safety, be accessible to all as soon as possible."
Nigeria said the resolution sends a "strong and positive signal" to the world that the ITU is concerned, highlighting the real-time flight data's potential use in conflict-ridden regions.
"Some regions in Africa, when aircrafts are flying across those regions, the pilots are left on their own. They depend mainly on the instrument that directs them. They have no communication link with any control tower," the Nigerian delegation said. "We feel that with this resolution, it will go a long way in combating the issue of terrorism globally, because areas where flights are flying without any contact with control towers, anything can happen. Terrorists can use that opportunity to strike."
China supported the ITU showing "a very serious political will" to address the issue, though it remained cautious over allocating new spectrum for the satellite navigation system.
Issues surrounding satellite networks and their impact on the terrestrial system are "very complicated", the Chinese delegation said, noting, "China supports that the Plenipotentiary Conference could make some suggestions to the WRC. However, it cannot make any prejudgment in place of the WRC."
The United Arab Emirates stressed global cooperation with related agencies, such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), to take necessary steps to facilitate the implementation of the resolution.
The ICAO, which is in charge of aeronautical radio frequency, vowed to cooperate with the ITU.
"(Member) states of (ICAO) and ITU should be encouraged to take action at the earliest opportunity to provide the necessary spectrum allocations as emerging aviation needs are identified," the ICAO delegation said. "This includes spectrum for satellite and radio services, used for safety of life aviation services."
The ICAO said aircraft surveillance by satellite has significant advantages over other potential approaches to global aircraft tracking.
"No new equipment is required on board aircraft, and the tracking service could be available as soon as appropriately equipped satellites are available," the delegation said.