KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 highlights the need for security improvements both in tracking aircraft and screening passengers before they board planes, the International Air Transport Association said Tuesday.
The global airline body also 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.
"In a world where our every move seems to be tracked, there is disbelief that an aircraft could simply disappear," Tyler said. "Accidents are rare, but the current search for 370 is a reminder that we cannot be complacent on safety."
The three-week hunt for Flight 370 has turned up no sign of the Boeing 777, which vanished March 8 with 239 people on board bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. A multinational search team of aircraft and ships are searching a remote area of the southern Indian Ocean but say they have no idea where the plane might have gone down hours after it vanished from radar.
Tyler also called on governments to step up the use of passenger databases such as the one operated by Interpol to determine if a passport has been stolen. Interpol has a database of 40 million stolen or lost travel documents, but most countries including Malaysia don't run passports through its computer system.
"Airlines are neither border guards nor policemen. That is the well-established responsibility of governments," Tyler said. "The information is critical and must be used effectively."
Last week, Interpol rejected comments from a Malaysian minister that it takes too much time and is too difficult to check the agency's database.
The police agency said in a statement that it "takes just seconds" to reveal if a passport is listed on its database, which is regularly used by the United States, Singapore and other countries.
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 asylum seekers attempting to get to Europe. Nonetheless, their easy access to the flight "rings alarm bells," Tyler said.
IATA said more than 3 billion people flew safely on 36.4 million flights last year. There were 81 accidents, 16 which were fatal with 210 deaths.
Associated Press writer Jocelyn Gecker in Bangkok contributed to this report.