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Task force delays aircraft tracking plans promised after MH370 mystery

TORONTO (Reuters) - An airline industry-led task force looking at ways to improve plane tracking after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines’ flight MH370 has delayed its recommendations, possibly until December.

The shadow of a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P3 Orion maritime search aircraft can be seen on low-level clouds as it flies over the southern Indian Ocean looking for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 March 31, 2014. REUTERS/Rob Griffith/Pool

A spokeswoman for the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which is leading the effort, said the draft proposals would not be delivered to the U.N.’s aviation body on Tuesday as previously expected.

The disappearance of the Malaysian airline in March sparked a global drive for a system that would make it possible to pinpoint the exact route and last location of an aircraft.

“After an exhaustive internal review, it was determined that we needed more clarification on the recommendations and on guidance for implementation,” IATA spokeswoman Mona Aubin said in an email.

Aubin did not say what clarifications were being sought. She said IATA now expects to bring the recommendations to its board by December at the latest.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in May called for the body to adopt real-time tracking of civilian aircraft and other measures. “In an age of smartphones and mobile Internet, real-timetracking of commercial airplanes is long overdue,” he said in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

In May, members of the U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) governing council agreed on the need for global tracking. IATA was to put together tracking proposals that its members would implement voluntarily before ICAO set industry standards, which can take several years.

IATA Director General Tony Tyler told an industry conference in Montreal on Sept. 19 that draft recommendations would be presented to ICAO on Sept. 30, but struck a cautious note.

“I would like to ensure that expectations are appropriate as to what will be produced. This will not be a final document or a silver bullet solution,” he said, according to remarks posted on IATA’s website.

A six-month-long international search has so far failed to find any trace of the Malaysian plane.

Better tracking technology could have helped rescuers and investigators quickly locate MH370, which is presumed to have crashed with 239 people on board in a remote part of the Indian Ocean.

Some airlines already track their aircraft around the world, but procedures vary widely. Airline industry leaders have said keeping track of their aircraft in real time could push up ticket prices for passengers. The industry also wants governments to foot part of the bill.

French crash investigators recommended better tracking in the aftermath of the 2009 crash of Air France 447 in the Atlantic Ocean.

Editing by Amran Abocar; and Matthew Lewis