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Proposed Flight-Tracking, Recorder Requirements in Focus at Recent ICAO Conference

Feb. 10, 2015

Earlier this month at a International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) safety conference, attendees discussed the possibility of requiring aircraft operators to track their airplanes and outfit them with automatically deployable flight recorders (ADFRs), but the proposed regulations, as currently written, will not affect the vast majority of business aircraft operators.

High-profile airline mishaps over the past five years, combined with the July 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine and other safety issues, prompted ICAO to convene the second High-Level Safety Conference (HLSC2015), which was held Feb. 2 to 5 in Montreal, Canada.

In the aftermath of the June 2009 loss of Air France Flight 447 and the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 last March, conference attendees considered a proposed requirement for mandatory flight tracking of commercial aircraft. A related proposal calls for aircraft engaged in commercial operations to be equipped with ADFRs, which would be capable of being ejected from their housings following an accident to assist search crews looking for downed airplanes.

Peter Ingleton, director of liaison to ICAO for the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC), noted that both requirements carry potential ramifications for business aircraft operators, though it appears for now the industry will be largely unaffected.

"The proposed regulations, the texts of which were not subject to detailed consideration by the conference, would apply to commercially-operated aircraft above a specified maximum certificated takeoff weight and with greater than 19 seats. Fortunately, that significantly abridges the applicability to business aircraft," said Ingleton. "IBAC was actively involved in the formulation of the proposed regulations leading up to the conference and was ultimately successful in minimizing the degree that these proposals might affect business aviation."

Ingleton also noted that many questions remain as to how operators would implement the flight-tracking requirements if enacted.

"There's no clear decision yet on whether both [flight tracking and deployable data recorder] systems would be required, or what technologies would be approved for operators to comply," he said. "For example, current subscriber-based flight tracking solutions minimize public exposure of sensitive information, but other tracking services involving the broadcast of position information may allow that data to be plucked out of the ether, as it were, by anyone with an appropriate receiver."

ICAO member states will review the proposed regulations and have the opportunity to comment, a process expected to take approximately six months. The ICAO Air Navigation Commission will then consider comments prior to recommending to the ICAO Council adoption of the new provisions.

"In the coming weeks, IBAC will work through our member associations to encourage these states to agree with the proposed regulations as written," said IBAC Director-General Kurt Edwards. "The impact to business aviation operators will be minimal if they are accepted, but should our community get swept up in the tracking or ADFR carriage requirements, we'll need to pursue additional actions."

Delegates also focused on other safety matters relevant to business aircraft operators, including the identification of conflict zones and ensuring the promulgation of information regarding such zones. Consideration was also given to the protection of safety information, with discussions addressing the need for operators to develop emergency preparedness and response plans - a topic also highlighted last week with a live action emergency management drill, at the 2015 NBAA Schedulers & Dispatchers Conference (SDC2015) in San Jose, CA. Learn more about the SDC2015 emergency drill.

"ICAO and its member countries often tend to think in terms of airlines," said Mark Larsen, NBAA senior manager of safety and flight operations, who attended the High Level Safety Conference last week. "That said, these areas commonly also affect the business aviation community, and we may benefit from the guidance provided by these high-level conversations to further improve industry safety."