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Inmarsat calls for global tracking of commercial jets

By Cecily Liu and Zhang Chunyan in London and Zhao Lei in Beijing (China Daily) Updated: 2014-03-26 08:38

Senior official of British satellite telecommunications company suggests that major nations'apply the technology we already have'

Inmarsat calls for global tracking of commercial jets

A rigid-hulled inflatable boat moves off from the Australian navy ship, HMAS Success, as it travels to investigate a potential object sighting in the southern Indian Ocean during the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 on Tuesday. Australian search and rescue authorities said on Tuesday that bad weather and rough seas had forced the suspension of the search for the missing jetliner, dashing hopes for a speedy recovery of suspected crash debris. AUSTRALIAN DEFENSE FORCE / REUTERS

An executive at Inmarsat, the British satellite telecommunications company involved in the ongoing hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, said that a global tracking system should be established for all commercial aircraft.

"It takes a major nation to step forward and say that the world should track its commercial jets," said Chris McLaughlin, Inmarsat's senior vice-president in charge of external affairs.

McLaughlin said the MH370 incident could lead to a push for all commercial aircraft to be tracked, adding that the initiative could be led by China and other nations that are heavily dependent on air transportation.

"It does seem incomprehensible that you have passengers buying seats on an aircraft and you can't know where it has gone," he said.

"So it needs the leadership of China, the United States, the United Kingdom and others to say that it's time to apply the technology we already have, and it's time to track so that customers and passengers and families will all know with certainty where a commercial jet is."

McLaughlin compared the MH370 incident to the 1912 sinking of the Titanic, which resulted in the establishment of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, one of the fundamental documents in the shipping industry that is still in use today to protect the safety of ships.

"Just over 100 years ago, ships at sea didn't have to have their radio on to listen to other ships' distress calls. They didn't have rules on the number of lifeboats they carried. They didn't keep track of the people on board," McLaughlin said. "You see, great tragedies like this can bring improvements to all of mankind."

Inmarsat hopes this will be the last time the world has to use all possible means to locate a missing aircraft "when such a simple technology could be applied" for tracking, McLaughlin said.

Simon Boxall, a lecturer in Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton in the UK, said the technology Inmarsat used to gather its data is reliable.

He said because the last piece of data showed the plane far out in the southern Indian Ocean, it would have been unable to land.

The plane could have flown for another hour from the last point of contact, the data show. Alternatively, it could have crashed shortly after the last transmission. These are all unknowns that make the search for the aircraft challenging, Boxall said.

"All you can say, beyond reasonable doubt, is that toward the end of the fuel availability on the plane it was in the southern Indian Ocean - unfortunately, a long way from anywhere. It was lost," he said.

"There are huge challenges ahead to find out more details about what happened to the plane," he said.

Wu Peixin, an aviation expert in Beijing, said it is definitely a good idea to have a tracking system in place, but making it happen would require cooperation from civil aviation authorities and airlines around the world to overcome a series of political and technological obstacles.

"The forming of such a system needs a high level of coordination and cooperation among air traffic control departments and airlines as well as the integration of their own tracking apparatus."

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