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The UN agrees to create a global flight tracking system after disappearance of MH370

Aircraft would send transmissions to satelites and space stations for the first time

How Foo Yeen/Getty Images

The disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 with 239 people onboard last year spurred a worldwide effort to create a better system to track civilian flights. On Wednesday, some of that effort bore fruit. A UN committee agreed to allocate a portion of the radio spectrum for global flight tracking to prevent future disappearances.

The agreement was reached at the World Radiocommunication Conference in Geneva. The UN International Telecommunication Union, which sets global standards for communication technology, agreed to dedicate the frequency band 1087.7-1092.3 MHz for satellites and space stations to receive Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast emissions from aircraft transmitters. Currently aircraft only send these transmissions to other aircraft and air traffic control stations, which limits their effectiveness when aircraft are traveling in remote areas or over oceans.

Allocating portions of the radio spectrum to prevent future disappearances

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao said in a statement that his organization has "responded in record time to the expectations of the global community on the major issue concerning global flight tracking. ITU will continue to make every effort to improve flight tracking for civil aviation."

But some would disagree. After the disappearance of MH370, regulators and airlines were criticized for responding too slowly to French tracking recommendations after the crash of an Air France jet in 2009. Last September, the European Union said it would pursue plans to impose mandatory flight tracking in response to the MH370 tragedy.

The UN's aviation arm, the International Civil Aviation Organization, has set a deadline for November 2016 for airlines to install tracking technology. Those will include aircraft sending their position at least every 15 minutes, or more in case of emergency.

French investigators recently confirmed a piece of debris that washed ashore on Réunion Island is from MH370.