Industry group seeks continuous flight tracking

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- An aviation industry group is creating a task force to make recommendations this year for continuously tracking commercial airliners because "we cannot let another aircraft simply vanish" like Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

As low clouds, rain and choppy seas off western Australia hampered Tuesday's hunt for the missing jet, the operation's chief warned that the 25-day-old search "could drag on for a long time," and Malaysian investigators said they were scrutinizing the last-known conversation between the plane and ground control.

The search has turned up no sign of the Boeing 777, which vanished March 8 with 239 people aboard bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. A multinational team of aircraft and ships is searching the southern Indian Ocean for the plane, which disappeared from radar and veered off-course for unexplained reasons.

The mystery has highlighted the need for improvements in tracking aircraft and security, according to the International Air Transport Association, a trade group of the world's airlines meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

"In a world where our every move seems to be tracked, there is disbelief that an aircraft could simply disappear," said Tony Tyler, the director general of the group, whose 240 member airlines carry 84 percent of all passengers and cargo worldwide. "We cannot let another aircraft simply vanish," he said in announcing the high-level task force to make recommendations on tracking commercial aircraft.

But the Air Line Pilots Association, the world's biggest pilot union, warned that live-streaming of information from the flight data recorder, as an alternative to the current black boxes, could lead to releases or leaks of clues that make pilots look bad before all accident facts are known.

"That data is there for safety analysis," said Alaska Airlines pilot Sean Cassidy, an ALPA officer. "Unfortunately, if you have this massive wave of data that's getting out there -- if it's not safeguarded and protected -- there's going to be a real rush to judgment, especially towards the pilots in event of an accident." If the goal is to better track planes, the ALPA said, the answer is a beefed-up, satellite-based navigation system called NextGen.

Mr. Tyler, the aviation industry spokesman, also urged improvements in screening passengers before boarding. The presence of two men with stolen passports on the Malaysia Airlines flight had raised speculation of a possible terror link, but it is now thought that they were asylum seekers bound for Europe. Nonetheless, Mr. Tyler said their easy access to the flight "rings alarm bells."

Malaysia's government, responding to repeated media requests, released a transcript of the conversation between Flight 370 and air traffic control, which showed normal exchanges as the pilots requested clearance for takeoff, reported that the jet had reached cruising altitude and left Malaysian airspace.

"Good night, Malaysian three-seven-zero," were the final words received at 1:19 a.m. March 8 by ground controllers at Kuala Lumpur's international airport. That was a change from what had been initially transcribed as "All right, good night." There was no explanation for the change. The conversation was in English, the universal language of aviation.

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