The Malaysian airliner’s disappearance underscores the need for improvements in security, both in tracking aircraft and in screening passengers, the International Air Transport Association said Tuesday.
Investigators, meanwhile, were conducting a forensic examination of the final recorded conversation between ground control and the cockpit of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 before it went missing three weeks ago with 239 people on board, the Malaysian government said.
The examination could shed light on who was in control of the cockpit, and will also seek to determine if there was any stress or tension in the voice of whoever was communicating with ground control — crucial factors in an air-disaster investigation.
The IATA announced it is creating a task force that will make recommendations by the end of the year on how commercial aircraft can be tracked continuously.
“We cannot let another aircraft simply vanish,” said Tony Tyler, the director general of IATA, whose 240 member airlines carry 84 percent of all passengers and cargo worldwide.
Tyler also urged governments to step up the use of passport databases, such as the one operated by Interpol, to determine if passports have been stolen. Most countries, including Malaysia, don’t run passports through Interpol’s computer system.
The presence of two men on the Malaysia Airlines flight with stolen passports had raised speculation of a possible terrorist link, but it is now thought they were migrants attempting to get to Europe. Nonetheless, their easy access to the flight “rings alarm bells,” Tyler said.
Under normal circumstances, ground-based air-traffic controllers use radar and other equipment to track all aircraft in their area of reach and direct planes so they are at different altitudes and distances. This enforced separation — vertical and horizontal — prevents collisions. But the planes searching for Flight 370 are operating over a remote patch of ocean that is hundreds of kilometers from any air traffic controller.
Angus Houston, a former Australian defense chief heading the joint agency coordinating the multinational search effort, called the search effort the most challenging one he has ever seen. The starting point for any search is the last known position of the vehicle or aircraft, he said.
“In this particular case, the last known position was a long, long way from where the aircraft appears to have gone,” he said. “It’s very complex; it’s very demanding.”
“What we really need now is to find debris, wreckage from the aircraft,” he said. “This could drag on for a long time.”
Items recovered so far were discovered to be flotsam unrelated to the Malaysian plane. Several orange-colored objects spotted by plane Sunday turned out to be fishing equipment.