Timothy Davis / January 6, 2015

Lost in Incompetence

For the past 9 days, the world has been transfixed by the most recent tragedy involving a passenger airliner. Yet another plane went down, presumably killing all 162 people on board, and rescuers couldn’t find it for almost an entire week. They still are not 100% certain that they have found the plane. This is on top of the still not yet found Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 that went down last spring. These horrific tragedies have the left the world asking how, in 2015, can we still manage to lose an entire airplane? A large majority of us have smartphones that can track us to within a few feet of our location, yet we still don’t have such technology on planes that carry millions of people every day. How is this possible? In an era of intense government regulation from the number of cat hairs acceptable in a pumpkin pie to how tall your grass can be (and everything in between), how can we not have some sort of national, or global, standard for tracking airplanes?

The latest reports on the AirAsia airliner indicate that some passengers may have survived the crash, only to drown later when the plane finally sank. We should be appalled to our core by this. Imagine surviving a plane crash, only to later drown because rescuers couldn’t locate you in time. The fact that this happened is a black mark on the world that can never be erased. It is true that GPS technology wouldn’t have prevented the plane crash. Planes crash. That is one of the realities we have to live with. But perhaps we could have saved a few innocent victims if we could have located them in time. Even for those whose family members died, a faster recovery could have given families closure early on, instead of leaving them suffering in utter misery for weeks, or months. We owe it to the victims of these tragedies to make sure nothing like this can ever happen again.

Americans have traditionally and rightly preferred less government regulation, and more independence, to live our lives in peace. However, in this instance, we need the U.S. government to mandate that airlines equip their planes with real time GPS locators. We’re talking about things small enough to fit into a phone, and inexpensive enough that practically everyone has one. Granted, some modifications would needed to be made to make them able to work with planes, but that is a small price to pay. How can we sit by and tell the families of the hundreds that have been lost that “We did everything we could”, when we know that’s not true? We could have retrofitted planes with this tracking software. We did nothing, and now hundreds are dead.

While putting these GPS trackers on planes would cost money, it certainly wouldn’t cost as much as searching the ocean for weeks and months. If our government has no problem implementing regulations on coal dust that will cost our economy billions upon billions of dollars, it should have no problem demanding that airlines fork over a few million dollars (max) to ensure the safety of the tens of millions of Americans who fly the skies every day. The rampant regulators on the Potomac have a chance to actually do something productive, so why won’t they? Bringing airplanes to the level of technology as a phone seems pretty much like a no-brainer.

Expanding this to the global stage, the United Nations should follow suit and actually do something to benefit people by demanding that international flights be equipped with GPS tracking. The U.N. is infamous for its wild incompetence. Wouldn’t it be great if for once in its history it actually did something that mattered? Instead of condemning Israel, or releasing long-winded reports on global warming that do nothing, maybe the U.N should protect people. It was created to unite the globe and defend people from unnecessary death. How about for once it fulfills its purpose. It might not be the most innovative, or drastic, legislation ever, but it’s a start. No country in the world would object to tracking planes to make sure we always know where they are. If a terrorist group like ISIS or Al Qaeda ever manages to hijack an airliner again, shouldn’t we be able to track it?

The innocent lives of all the globe’s travelers matter. If it costs a few million dollars to do this, so be it. Even if this technology would only end up saving one person from a plane crash in the middle of nowhere, it would be worth it. Every single human life matters, and we should never do anything less than our very best to try to save everyone. America has always been a leader in innovation, and a leader in safety. It’s time to pick that mantle up once again and lead.

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