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Better aircraft tracking method to be tested in wake of Malaysia plane's disappearance

A Chinese family member of a passenger on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, cries after praying at a temple in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Sunday, March 1, 2015.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Vincent Thian
March 01, 2015 - 1:01 PM

SYDNEY - Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia will lead a trial of an enhanced method of tracking aircraft over remote oceans to allow planes to be more easily found should they vanish like Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, Australia's transport minister said Sunday.

The announcement comes one week ahead of the anniversary of the disappearance of Flight 370, which vanished last year during a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 people on board. No trace of the plane has been found.

Airservices Australia, a government-owned agency that manages the country's airspace, will work with its Malaysian and Indonesian counterparts to test the new method, which would enable planes to be tracked every 15 minutes, rather than the previous rate of 30 to 40 minutes, Australian Transport Minister Warren Truss said. The tracking would increase to 5 minutes or less if there is a deviation in the plane's movements.

The trial is expected to use satellite-based positioning technology already on board 90 per cent of long-haul aircraft that transmits the plane's current position and its next two planned positions, said Airservices Australia chairman Angus Houston, who helped lead the search for Flight 370.

The trial will boost the frequency with which planes automatically report their position, allowing air traffic controllers to better track them, Houston said.

"This is not a silver bullet," Houston told reporters in the nation's capital, Canberra. "But it is an important step in delivering immediate improvements to the way we currently track aircraft while more comprehensive solutions are developed."

There is no requirement for real-time tracking of commercial aircraft and ever since Flight 370 disappeared, air safety regulators and airlines have been trying to agree on how extensively planes should be tracked. The Boeing 777 veered sharply off-course and vanished from radar shortly into its flight on March 8.

An international team of experts that analyzed a series of hourly transmissions between the plane and a satellite later determined that the plane travelled for another seven hours before crashing somewhere within a remote 60,000-square-kilometre (23,000-square-mile) patch of the Indian Ocean. An extensive, monthslong search of that area is ongoing, but nothing has yet been found.

Houston warned that new method being trialed would not necessarily have allowed air traffic controllers to monitor Flight 370 — whose transponder and other tracking equipment shut down during the flight — to the point where it crashed.

"I think we've got to be very, very careful because you can turn this system off," he said. "What would have happened while the system is operating, we'd know exactly where the aircraft was. If somebody had turned the system off, we're in the same set of circumstances as we've experienced on the latter part of the flight of MH370."

— Associated Press writer Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.

News from © The Associated Press, 2015
The Associated Press

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