(Adds detail from interview, context.)
By Allison Martell
MONTREAL May 13 The United Nations aviation
agency said on Tuesday that the industry would voluntarily begin
to improve aircraft tracking while the agency develops mandatory
standards for tracking following the disappearance of Malaysia
Airlines flight MH370.
But the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
gave no firm timeline for when those binding standards would go
into effect, reflecting the challenge of reaching an agreement
with industry and governments around the world on a longstanding
"A standard takes longer, it takes time. The process of
cooperation is long but it's important," said Nancy Graham,
director of ICAO's Air Navigation Bureau, at a press conference.
The countries that belong to ICAO's governing council met
with industry groups on Monday and Tuesday in Montreal. They
agreed global tracking of aircraft is needed following the
disappearance of flight MH370, but did not commit to a binding,
global solution or say when they would.
Instead, a task force set up by global airline industry
group the International Air Transport Association (IATA) agreed
to come up with proposals for better tracking by the end of
September, and IATA said its members would begin implementing
them voluntarily, before any rules are in place.
Kevin Hiatt, IATA's senior vice president for safety and
flight operations, said the task force would offer ICAO guidance
as it develops binding standards.
"They're going to take it and obviously they will review it
very closely and take it to their Commission, but we have a much
better chance of the ... standards coming back the other way to
basically embrace what we're already doing," he said.
PROCEDURES VARY WIDELY
This week's meeting comes more than two months after flight
MH370 disappeared while en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur,
with 239 people aboard.
Inadequate tracking has been among the factors blamed for
failure to locate the jet, which is presumed to have crashed in
a remote part of the Indian Ocean about 1,600 km (1,000 miles)
northwest of Perth, Australia.
Some airlines do track their aircraft around the world, but
procedures vary widely.
Created in 1944, Montreal-based ICAO coordinates between the
191 states that have signed the Chicago Convention, the main
treaty that governs civil aviation. The organization sets
binding standards, and prefers to find a consensus among member
countries, which is time-consuming.
"The real issue is who is in charge of mandating better
tracking," said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst at Teal
Group, in Fairfax, Virginia.
"If it is the industry, they will have to bear all the
uncertainty about technical change, negotiations with pilots and
so on. It is not just about nickel and diming in safety, there
is real uncertainty."
It has been nearly five years since French crash
investigators recommended better tracking in the aftermath of an
Air France flight that crashed en route from Brazil.
Hiatt, with IATA, said no task force was needed after the
Air France crash because authorities knew enough to locate the
wreckage within a few days: "MH370 went some place that we
didn't exactly know, where with Air France there was a good idea
of where it went," he said.
ICAO noted the substantial investment required by some
airlines to install tracking gear. It asked the meeting to
recommend that any standards ICAO backs to be widely adopted as
possible, not rule out emerging technologies and be part of a
solution that does more than simply track flights.
"Things move slowly as there are so many agencies as well as
companies," Aboulafia said. "Throw in uncertainty on costs and
technological change that might make a major investment obsolete
and it is a recipe for confusion."
(Reporting by Allison Martell in Montreal, Alwyn Scott in New
York and Tim Hepher in Paris; Editing by Bernard Orr)