Viewpoint

The legacy of MH370 and MH17

When a tragedy occurs the first questions asked are “why?” and “how?”. This was never truer than in the cases of Malaysia Airlines’ flights MH370 and MH17 last year.

The shooting down of a passenger aircraft by participants in a conflict many thousands of feet below, and the mysterious disappearance of another, shocked the world and reminded us all of our own mortality.

Such incidents are, of course, incredibly rare, but they stand as a reminder that governments, operators, industry bodies, OEMs and MROs can never stand still on the issue of safety.

At ICAO’s second High Level Safety Conference last week, the long-lasting legacy of the tragic downings of MH370 and MH17 began to take shape.

First ICAO’s members backed the organisation’s proposal to develop an online portal where governments can post data on the risks posed to commercial aircraft by conflict zones in their territories – which they are required to collect under the Chicago Convention.

The aim of the website is to provide operators with the most up-to-date risk-assessments from governments and international bodies in a single location, making it easier for operators to understand the potential risks to their fleets.

“This prototype online database was one of the more important aspects of the overall risk mitigation strategy proposed by the Conflict Zone Task Force [which was established after the downing of MH17],” said ICAO secretary general Raymond Benjamin.

The second notable development was the recommendation that airlines commit to tracking their aircraft flying in remote areas not covered by air traffic services.

ICAO’s members backed the adoption of a voluntary standard that would require aircraft to report their position every 15 minutes during normal operations.

One aspect of this standard that was particularly welcomed by IATA is that it doesn’t set out requirements for how this tracking is undertaken, enabling airlines to use existing technologies and systems.

One potential option is the use of automatic dependent surveillance – contract (ADS-C) systems which transmit the aircraft’s current position and the next two planned positions.

Satellite communications company Inmarsat estimates that more than 90 per cent of widebody transoceanic aircraft in service are already equipped with avionics compatible with ADS-C, enabling such a system to be rapidly deployed.

While it may be little comfort to those affected by the crashes of MH370 and MH17, these plans could very well help to prevent such tragedies happening in the future and ensure that their lasting legacy is a positive one.

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