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Malaysia puts real-time plane tracking at centre of ICAO safety meeting

[MONTREAL] Malaysia, which had two air disasters last year after one jet disappeared and another was shot down over Ukraine, said on Monday that real-time aircraft tracking must become a priority for the industry.

While real-time tracking of commercial planes would have a financial impact, it is too vital to ignore, Malaysia said in a paper to the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organization safety conference, which opens on Monday.

"We believe, based on our unfortunate experience, (it) will be offset by the benefits of enhancing the effectiveness of the alerting and search and rescue services," the paper said.

Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared last March shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing with 239 people on board. A nearly yearlong search, now focused on the seabed off Australia's western coast, has failed to turn up any sign of the aircraft or its flight recorders, known as black boxes.

"The disappearance of MH370 demonstrates the crucial need to improve aircraft tracking systems for the sake of safety and security," Malaysia said in its paper.

"In this day and age, the fact that an airplane could go missing and that the flight recorders could be so difficult to recover is unacceptable."

The airline industry is divided over the costs of installing new tracking systems.

The ICAO conference, which runs through Thursday, is likely to call for planes to send tracking signals at regular intervals in normal flight and to speed them up when they get into trouble.

It is also looking at ejectable black boxes as one way to aid searches and solve mysteries like that of MH370.

But in December, the International Air Transport Association, which represents more than 200 carriers, refused to back a call by an industrywide committee that had met under its own leadership to install currently available systems on its planes within 12 months.

A strong ICAO mandate to impose flight tracking would also need national measures to take effect. The European Union is expected to move quickly to make them law, an EU official has said.