Global aviation regulators are being urged to delay plans to introduce mandatory tracking of passenger jets, 18 months after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, according to an industry magazine report.
The move to require all aircraft using remote skies to report their position every 15 minutes is the first stage in a broader plan under discussion at the United Nations’ aviation agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
It follows widespread calls for better aircraft tracking triggered by the disappearance of MH370 in March last year carrying 239 passengers and crew.
ICAO has set a deadline for November 2016 for airlines to install tracking technology.
But the timetable for the plan has faced opposition from an advisory group that ICAO itself established, the Normal Aircraft Tracking Implementation Initiative (NATII), according to the report in Air Traffic Management magazine.
NATII, which includes airlines and governments, argues that it could lead to flight diversions and cancellations if the tracking system goes down, the magazine said.
The group has urged ICAO policymakers to delay the plan by another two years, the report added.
Other aviation sources have said airlines are balking at the speed of implementation, in part because of the cost, fearing that any rapid decisions could be overtaken by new technology.
An ICAO source familiar with the matter said several nations had also expressed concerns that the 2016 deadline was too soon because of the planning and training that would be needed.
ICAO has defended the proposed 15-minute position-reporting rule for planes, saying it is something that can be put in place quickly while it develops more stringent tracking standards.
According to the agency’s working papers, most long-haul aircraft already have systems that can transmit their position.
But they are not always turned on, and in some locations, including polar routes, there are gaps in satellite coverage. In those cases, radio communication could be a useful backstop.
The European Union is meanwhile pursuing plans to impose flight tracking that could lead to even tighter rules.
An upcoming EU regulation would not mandate a specific interval for position updates, but this would be left to the European Aviation Safety Agency which sources say is leaning towards a three-minute interval.
Each extra minute can significantly affect the search area in the event of a crash over water or remote areas.
In 2009, an Air France jet – whose maintenance systems were reporting its position every 10 minutes – vanished in the South Atlantic, leaving investigators a 17,000-square-km area to look for the jet. Its main wreckage was found after two years.