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Nation/World

March 17, 2014

After missing jet saga, changes not assured

NEW YORK — The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has exposed wide gaps in how the world’s airlines — and their regulators — operate. But experts warn this isn’t likely to be one of those defining moments that lead to fundamental changes.

For financial and technological reasons, and because of issues tied to national sovereignty, the status quo is expected to prevail in the way passports are checked, aircraft are tracked at sea and searches are coordinated.

In an age of constant connectedness, it’s almost inconceivable to lose a 209-foot-long airplane for more than a week, or be in the dark about what happened onboard around the time it went missing.

The reality is that large portions of the globe don’t have radar coverage. Over oceans, pilots fill in those gaps by radioing air traffic controllers at routine intervals with position updates. And while planes record sounds in the cockpit, as well as speed, altitude, fuel flow and the positions of flaps, that information isn’t shared with anyone on the ground. Crash investigators only get access to the data on the recorders after combing through the wreckage.

Numerous experts have said it is time to update tracking abilities and use satellite links to provide real-time feeds on the operation of planes and conversations within the cockpit.

However, transmitting data by satellite from all 80,000 daily flights worldwide wouldn’t be cheap.

Airlines made an average of $4.13 in profits per passenger last year and $2.05 in 2012, according to International Air Transport Association, the industry’s trade group. Any additional costs would eat into those slim profit margins. Some experts say planes don’t crash frequently enough — let alone disappear — to justify the cost.

If such information were to be streamed live, there would be major concerns about privacy says Robert Clifford, a personal injury lawyer in Chicago who has been involved in several aviation lawsuits.

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