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Commercial jet satellite trackers to check in more frequently

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The International Civil Aviation Organization is striving to have flights over oceans more closely monitored in the near future in the wake of 2014's Malaysia Airlines disappearance.

The “Australian Enhanced Flight Tracking Evaluation” performance report posted Monday on the ICAO website describes the evaluation that was conducted from January through August over Australian air space to verify that increasing the frequency of position reporting of wide-body aircraft flying over the ocean to every 15 minutes or less can be accomplished using already available technologies and procedures without causing additional risk.

The 15-minute reporting requirement would replace the current 30- to 40-minute interval required for reporting a commercial aircraft's location.

The change is intended to ensure air traffic control can respond faster to incidents and potential traffic conflicts. It would also have the added benefit of less costly search and rescue procedures, since the area to search will be much smaller, which may be reflected in underwriting policies for insurers, observers say.

Canberra, Australia-based air navigation service provider Airservices Australia and London-based satellite service provider Inmarsat P.L.C. participated in the aircraft tracking capability evaluation with a goal of proving that existing systems and technologies could meet the 15-minute requirement.

“The 15-minute flight check-in requirement is not meant to address the MH370 issue,” said Mary McMillan, Washington-based vice president of safety and operations for Inmarsat and a commercial pilot and captain for United Airlines for over 25 years. “It is to ensure operators have a more up-to-date situational awareness around the position of their plane, which would greatly reduce the search area in the case when somebody goes missing.

“What is ironic is the MH370 had all the latest equipment and held all the capability for long-range communication and navigational surveillance, but for whatever reason, it was disabled. It was our Inmarsat satellite that was pinging the plane to ask, 'Hey, are you still out there?' and we continued to ping them until it ran out of power.”

The proposed timeline for the Normal Aircraft Tracking Implementation Initiative lists November for a proposed adoption of standards and recommended practices, with proposed changes to become effective March 2016.

A spokesman for the Montreal-based International Air Transport Association said the IATA is concerned about the proposed timelines.

“Once the findings of the Normal Aircraft Tracking Implementation Initiative are known, it is important that any proposed risk-based variations enable airlines to choose the best option for their aircraft and operations. IATA believes the proposed standards and recommended practices (SARPs) to be too prescriptive and consequently there could be unintended consequences arising.”