Making Sure Airplanes Don’t Disappear is Not Science Fiction, IATA’s Tony Tyler Says

In his State of the Industry address to the IATA Annual General Meeting (AGM) today, Tony Tyler, IATA’s Director General and CEO said, when referring to systems which would, among other safety improvements, prevent another MH370: “This is not science fiction.”

“A large commercial airline going missing without a trace for so long is unprecedented in modern aviation,” Tyler also said.  “And it must not happen again.”

By identifying the need to track aircraft as “immediate,” Tyler set himself at odds with many leaders in the industry who believe an event like MH370 will not likely “happen again,” and that the cost of equipping aircraft to prevent it from happening again would be onerous.

“The bigger airlines that fly globally might have the cash for it, but the smaller players already have their margins stressed and don’t have much money left to spare,” an Asian airline executive told Reuters, asking not to be identified.

Indeed, as I previously reported on Skift, large airlines, like Canadian regional carrier First Air, have already reached into their deep pockets to grab the $100,000 required for a little blue box onboard their aircraft which can track an aircraft at all times; maintaining ongoing communications with the base of operations.

But let’s think about it for a moment.  It’s a blue box.  It does impossible sciency things.  Just like another blue box, though that one is too large to fit in an aircraft (possibly), and even larger on the inside.  Of course, I mean the Tardis.

This brings us to an important point which even CNN (who were brave enough to question whether a black hole might have swallowed up MH370) did not dare point out.  Even the BBC, who probably should have brought it up–as he’s their main guy–failed to delve into the big question:

Where was the Doctor?

If anyone could have travelled back in time, entered the cockpit of MH370 and, not only figured out what happened but also prevented it from happening, it would have been the Doctor.

Had the Doctor prevented the disappearance of MH370, then airlines around the world would not now be anxious over the prospect of eventually getting around to deciding to do something about aircraft tracking.  They could instead celebrate 100 years of flight at the lavish Qatar conference; where enough money was spent on fireworks last night to equip several hundred aircraft with tracking technology.

The purists among you will point out that Tyler is absolutely right.

Doctor Who is not really science fiction.  It is fiction, but not all that sciency.  After all, physicists have established that what the Doctor does is completely impossible.  Just as airlines have pointed out that deciding on any kind of system to track aircraft is completely unrealistic.

No, Doctor Who is not really science fiction, but veers more into the fantasy category.  It all forms part of speculative fiction, just like the various talks between IATA and ICAO on this aircraft tracking thing, which is not the same thing as reality.

A better example of relevant science fiction might be to look at Star Trek.  The whole warp-drive issue aside, Star Trek has given the world some very sciency ideas.

Star Trek inspired doors which open themselves when you walk up to them (as we now enjoy in stores around the world, even some low-budget ones) and communications systems which are already pretty outdated, like the Motorola flip phone.

This would be a far more appropriate science fiction comparison to the airline industry.  After all, for all its might and mysterious bending of the the fabric of space-time to get from point A to point B, the highly regarded Starfleet did manage to lose an entire vessel, with thousands of persons onboard, in deep space.  And no one did anything about it.  Yes, I mean Voyager.

The airline industry may very well point out that even it in the year 2370, the contemporary equivalent of an aircraft could go missing with no one knowing what happened to it; leaving the occupants to fend for themselves for a whole seven seasons in a part of space so remote that there were hardly any stars.

Though the Star Trek series notably ignores the goings-on at Starfleet headquarters all these seven seasons, one can only imagine that, back on Earth, people were asking how this could happen in 2370.

They probably also wanted to know what Starfleet would do to prevent it from happening again.

Surely, in a futurey San Francisco, many conferences were held by Starfleet officers addressing whether a little blue box could be installed on Starfleet vessels to keep track of them as they travelled through the galaxy; with others pointing out that blue boxes are the stuff of fantasy and really really pricey.

Tyler is right.  This is not science fiction.  But it might as well be.

Featured Image, Matt Smith’s Tardis, by Paul Hudson on Flickr

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