Commercial flights worldwide could soon be equipped with transmitters that send out an emergency signal every minute to help rescuers find downed planes more easily. The new measures may be phased in by the end of this year, said the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations agency. Planes flying with the new tracking equipment would start sending out a signal every minute if an unusual event is detected, including a change in direction or deviation from a flight path. Under normal flying conditions, aircraft using the system would transmit their location at 15-minute intervals. Airlines are responsible to report information to authorities in cases of emergency.
Search and rescue teams can then track an aircraft within six nautical miles (11 kilometers) of its last known position following a distress signal. Currently, aircraft are tracked by radar, whose coverage diminishes when planes are out at sea or flying below a certain altitude. Airlines are also being asked to equip their aircraft with ejectable black boxes that would float and be more easily retrievable in case of a crash over water. Planes built after 2021 will reportedly include the ejectable black boxes as part of their inventory.
Ejectable black boxes would be supplementary pieces of equipment alongside the existing commercial flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder in planes. The new measures will be presented to delegates from all 191 ICAO member states at a meeting in the Canadian city of Montreal from February 2-5. Industry experts say the initiative has unanimous support among ICAO member states. A final proposal will likely be submitted to the ICAO Council within six months for ratification.
The announcement comes after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 last year, which is presumed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean near the coast of Western Australia. The plane, carrying 239 people on board, was on the way from the Malaysian capital city, Kuala Lumpur, to Beijing, the capital of China. The search for survivors has been called off, but the underwater search for the plane continues. No confirmed debris has ever been found.