Rethinking air safety paramount

The recent air tragedies have drawn global attention to ensure air traffic safety. This new trend brings together the industry’s managers and policymakers closer to address the issue that worries travellers and is also a headache for the sector.
Some air crashes were shrouded in mysteries and there are efforts to unearth what went wrong. One cause for concern is that pilots are often urged to keep their opinions to themselves when a company plane has gone awry. Pilots were blamed after AirAsia Flight QZ8501, with all 162 people aboard the Airbus A320, crashed. However, corporate culture, management practices, and costs, in particular fuel, could well have played a part in the loss of QZ8501 – and also in the two aircraft lost by Malaysia Airlines last year.
“Poor airline company culture is more common than the public is aware of. This is what defines the safety for me when I put my family on a jet. The human element that defines a company culture flows from the top CEO position down,” a pilot, who declined to be named, was quoted as saying in a recent report.
The unexplained disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, though a tragedy, has been a learning lesson for the industry which has now embarked on a number of safety options, among others, a proposal to mandate tamper-proof transponders.
The United Nations has also stepped up its efforts. It seeks to track aircraft more frequently and in greater detail. Planes are already thoroughly tracked. And a group studying the idea for the UN found that the additional requirements under consideration could in some cases create new risks, cause miscommunication and impose an “unrealistic operational burden”. Not to mention the expense.
On Wednesday, the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the UN agency that sets global aviation standards, moved to address some of the more glaring safety gaps. Planes in “distress” will have to automatically report their position and other critical information at least every minute to help searchers find the wreckage, in case they go down. Unfortunately, the requirement will only apply to planes built six years from now or later. It could take even longer to implement another International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) change requiring new planes have a reliable means to recover information stored in “black box” data and cockpit voice recorders, rather than scouring the ocean floor for the boxes.
Several existing technologies could do that, but ICAO’s timeline means it could be a decade or more before planes equipped with those technologies begin entering service.
With the fate of MH370 in mind, ICAO has approved a requirement that all airliners report their position about every 15 minutes over open ocean by November 2018. Pilots of planes flying over open Ocean have typically reported their position about every 30 minutes.
Durable Internet connectivity is vital on board to ensure passengers communicate with the earth in times of distress. This could also help trace or locate where the plane is experiencing difficulties or crashed.
Throughout decades of research, regulation and scientific advances airplanes became safer. Things can always be improved, yet risk may never be completely eliminated from flight. Sadly, more complexity often means more ways for things to go wrong.
In fact, the fast growing industry is aware that the safety is vital as lives and property are at risk. So enhancing communication and safety devices in the light of existing technology could no doubt make a difference.

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