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(ITU) (Yonhap Interview) ITU bureau director vows to speed up study on flight tracking

All Headlines 15:00 November 06, 2014

By Kim Eun-jung

BUSAN, Nov. 6 (Yonhap) -- The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) will speed up the ongoing study on real-time flight data tracking to provide member states with all available options when they discuss the matter next year, its bureau director said Thursday.

The United Nations agency, specialized in telecommunications, last week passed a resolution to improve global tracking for civil aviation to prevent incidents like the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 that went missing in March with 239 people on board.

Although the ITU traditionally draws up an agenda for the next plenipotentiary conference four years in advance, this year's gathering addressed the recent issue to bring about concerted global efforts in a timely manner, said Francois Rancy, director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau. The office handles the allocation and management of the global radio frequency spectrum and satellite orbits.

(ITU) (Yonhap Interview) ITU bureau director vows to speed up study on flight tracking - 2

"Given the importance of this issue, the plenipotentiary decided to put it on the agenda for the conference. It is something difficult because we had to work within a very short time frame," Rancy said during an interview with Yonhap News Agency.

The resolution instructs the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) to put global flight tracking on its agenda at its next meeting in November 2015 in Switzerland. It also calls for the ITU Rediocommunication Bureau to submit an in-depth report on the agenda and related technical issues for the upcoming meeting.

"Actually we're not starting now. We already started two years ago, but we need to accelerate the process ... to indicate the way the conference could decide something and to complete the regulatory framework of this work between 2015 and 2019," the French director said.

Although ITU members reached a consensus on flight tracking, leading satellite operators had waged a behind-the-scenes battle to oppose the ITU's move to consider including it on this year's agenda. Delegates also had debates in the process of drawing up the resolution to avoid terms that may prejudge the issue before the WRC meeting.

Rancy said competition among stakeholders is quite normal when an agenda can have a potential impact on related industries, pledging to conduct the study in a transparent and fair manner.

"Once all the studies are done, member states can see what is necessary to ensure (real-time flight data tracking)," he said. "The ITU will try to cover all possible aspects to include terms to make the right decision at the WRC."

Following the loss of the Malaysian flight, Inmarsat, a British satellite telecommunications company, in May proposed a free global airline tracking service over its network.

Aireon LLC, a U.S.-based provider of satellite-based aircraft monitoring, also promised to offer its tracking data for free to help authorities search for missing planes once its aircraft locating and emergency response tracking system is ready in 2017.

To keep up with the latest technology trend, the ITU in June formed a focus group to study ways to use "aviation data cloud" for real-time monitoring of flight data and other related issues such as protection, security and ownership of the data and policies to govern access to them.

While allocating the radio frequency spectrum for the satellite will be the key issue in the upcoming meeting, Rancy said experts will continue to explore aviation data cloud and look into potential issues that may arise when adopting the new technology.

"What we have discussed in this conference is the international regulation about the spectrum that will be necessary to provide all possible ways of giving this service," Rancy said. "Once we have that in place, there will be a possibility of data transmission, and then this is where the aviation data cloud will (come into play)."

Despite benefits of having flight data in the cloud system, Rancy believes having the new technology replace the black box will be hard to achieve, even "problematic" due to competition and transparency issues.

"We have a lot of data coming from various sources, and it will be good to analyze that in real time, and it will provide valuable information we need. It's extremely important in case accidents like that and other accidents that may happen in the future."

Currently, all commercial airlines are required to install black boxes to monitor flights to provide investigators with vital clues about the causes of any accidents should they occur.

Rancy, who was re-elected to his current post during this year's conference, said his mission is to ensure the efficient use of the radio frequency spectrum by all radio communication services, including those using satellite orbits, in face of rising demand for additional spectrum.

He stressed allocating the radio frequency spectrum for new technologies and services should be done very carefully so as not to interfere with the current system, urging industries to invent a more efficient system using limited resources.

"A new technology or a new application is only great when it is not interfering with existing systems that are currently operating in these frequencies," he said.


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