WASHINGTON— With the one-year anniversary of the Malaysian Airlines flight 370 disappearance fast approaching, international aviation groups and the federal government are still looking for ways to ensure the safety of air travel in remote, international airspace.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee indicated Wednesday it would consider legislation addressing the need for a standard among U.S. passenger aircraft for functioning tracking equipment.
The move comes in the ongoing effort to avoid a repeat of MH370 — the Malaysian Airlines flight that disappeared almost a year ago en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
The anniversary of the MH370’s disappearance with 239 people aboard falls on March 8.
“It is absolutely unacceptable that today we are unable to locate or properly track a commercial passenger aircraft with 239 people… in an accident that occurred some time ago,” Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said at a hearing of House Oversight and Reform transportation subcommittee.
“It’s our responsibility to ensure that no commercial aircraft… should be allowed to fly without an operable aircraft tracking device,” Mica, the panel’s chairman, said.
The International Civil Aviation Organization—the primary group responsible for setting international aviation standards—will this week send a proposal to its 191 member countries on performance-based standards. If all goes well, the standards, likely requiring “changes or additions to aircraft equipment”, will be put in place in November.
The issue, however, is international implementation of new standards.
“U.S. airlines have fairly sophisticated operational controls and is capable of meeting this challenge,” Michael Lawson, the U.S. ambassador to International Civil Aviation Organization, told the subcommittee. “However, other regions of the world may find this standard more challenging.”
And for that reason, the civil aviation organization will host an aircraft tracking initiative in Asia this summer to identify such challenges.
A United Nations aviation arm also pushed early this month for improved tracking of commercial flights.
The proposed UN guidelines, which could take effect in November 2016 if approved by the world body, call for commercial flights to report their positions every 15 minutes under “normal” circumstances. Planes in distress would be expected to broadcast their locations once every minute.
While Mica empathizes with the difficulty of implementing a uniform standard internationally, he wants to push for U.S. legislation providing certainty that American passenger aircraft abide by equipment and performance requirements.
“We’ve always been a leader… [and] we need to help set the standard for the rest of the world,” Mica said. “There will be Americans flying… around the globe. We can’t guarantee all this in place instantly but I think we can motivate and initiate action that will light a fire.”