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Malaysia jet mystery prompts trial of better plane tracking

By Agencies in Sydney | China Daily | Updated: 2015-03-02 07:39

Malaysia jet mystery prompts trial of better plane tracking

Relatives of Chinese passengers from the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 offer prayers at Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, nearly a year after Malaysia Airlines MH370 went missing en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board. Mohd Rasfan / Agence France-Presse

Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia will lead a trial to enhance the tracking of aircraft over oceans, allowing planes to be more easily found should they vanish like Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, Australia's transport minister said on Sunday.

The announcement comes one week ahead of the anniversary of the disappearance of Flight MH370, which vanished last year on a flight from Kuala Lumpur 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 every 30 to 40 minutes, Australian Transport Minister Warren Truss said.

The tracking rate will increase to five minutes or less if there is a marked deviation in the plane's movements.

"In a world first, all three countries will trial a new method of tracking aircraft through the skies over remote oceanic areas," Truss said.

The trial is expected to use satellite-based positioning technology already on board 90 percent 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 MH370.

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

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

If an aircraft deviates more than 60 meters from its assigned level or two nautical miles from its expected track, the system would automatically monitor the jet more closely, such as every five minutes or almost continuously, he added.

There is no requirement for real-time tracking of commercial aircraft and ever since Flight MH370 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 who analyzed a series of hourly transmissions between the plane and a satellite, later determined that the plane traveled for another seven hours before crashing somewhere within a remote 60,000-square-kilometer patch of the Indian Ocean.

Despite an extensive, ongoing search of that area, nothing has yet been found.

Houston warned that the new method being trialed would not necessarily have allowed air traffic controllers to monitor Flight MH370 - 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."




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