Missing Malaysian aircraft missing latest technology
By Michael Hennigan, Finfacts founder and editor
Mar 11, 2014 - 4:09 AM

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Today in Malaysia's capital, known locally as KL, it's what we Irish would call a 'glorious day' with no clouds in sight. So during the mainly dry season, the weather is not an impediment in the fourth day of the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines aircraft on flight MH370. Meanwhile, it remains baffling to many people given the capabilities of their smartphones including GPS (satellite-based Global Positioning System) technology that search teams deployed by 11 nations cannot locate the Boeing 777-200 aircraft.

Today is also the third anniversary of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in north-east Japan when about 19,000 people died and a million buildings were destroyed or damaged. Almost 270,000 people remain displaced.

The missing Malaysian airliner involving the assumed loss of 239 lives has got worldwide attention, mainly because flying has become very safe - - compared with driving in some countries.

Malaysia is among the top 25 most dangerous countries for road users, with 30 fatalities per 100,000 individuals compared with 5 in Sweden, Switzerland and the UK and 6 in Ireland.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said that 2012 was the safest year in the history of aviation. It had the lowest number of accidents involving Western-built jets and the IATA calculated that the accident rate (measured in ''hull'', or whole fuselage, losses per million flights) was equivalent to one accident every 5m flights, a nearly 50% improvement on 2011 when the accident rate was one for every 2.7m flights.

In 2012, none of IATA's more than 240 members recorded hull losses of a Western-built jet. Besides, it took just four years from the first commercial flight of a Boeing 747 in 1970 for the aircraft to record its first disaster.

The last significant accident Aer Lingus experienced was in March 1968 when a Cork-London flight crashed near Tuskar Rock, off the coast of County Wexford, in south-eastern Ireland.

There were no survivors and only 14 bodies were ever recovered from the 57 passengers and crew on board.

Six years later a Turkish Airlines McDonnell-Douglas wide bodied DC10 crashed outside Paris when a rear cargo door spun open, killing all 346 people on board.

Then in March 1977 following a terrorist bombing at the Tenerife airport on Gran Canaria, one of the Spanish Canary Islands, planes had been diverted to another airport. When the main airport reopened, amidst thick fog and no ground radar, a KLM Boeing 747 taking off as the captain mistakenly assumed that he had clearance from the control tower, collided with a Pan Am 747 with its own payload of passengers, and the resultant fireball killed 583 people - - it remains the deadliest disaster in civil aviation history.

See live air traffic over Malaysia -- Malaysia comprises the peninsular landmass and two states on the island of Borneo -- southeast of the tip of the peninsula.

Pulau Tengah (Middle Island in Malay), South China Sea, Malaysia Photo: Michael Hennigan

The black box

An airline's black box is typically coloured a bright orange and there has been discussion over the years on having live data transmitted to a satellite during a flight but according to The Wall Street Journal, "carriers...generally balked at the cost of upgrading software and equipment to phase in the changes, not to mention paying extra for enhanced satellite connections needed to cover a big chunk of the world's roughly 20,000 commercial aircraft. As a result, public discussion of the idea gradually faded away."

In June 2009, the Air France Airbus 330 flight 447 Paris to Rio de Janeiro crashed into the Atlantic with the loss of 228 lives and it took 23 months of searching to locate the black boxes.

Investigators found that faulty airspeed indicators prompted pilot confusion and then errors that resulted in the crash.

The Journal says Boeing's 787 Dreamliner fleet is monitored in real-time at a command centre near Seattle, and the former chief program engineer famously received notifications on his BlackBerry whenever a 787 transmitted some discrepancy or problem.

Air France officials on the ground received automatically transmitted airplane status messages from the plane as it plummeted toward the ocean. As systems malfunctioned on the Airbus A330, the airline's operations centre received 14 messages indicating cascading problems aboard the jet. Those messages provided an early guide to investigators but were far from exhaustive.

At least it ruled out a bombing.

"It's not a technical challenge" to establish data streaming in a big way, according to William McCabe, an industry consultant with extensive military and corporate-aircraft management experience. "The time has come for change," he said, so industry officials can "get to a point where they are not so dependent on finding the black boxes."

The newspaper says Malaysia Airlines officials haven't said whether any automatically transmitted status messages, like those received by Air France from its A330 were received from the missing Boeing 777.

"When a United Continental Holdings Inc. 787 diverted to New Orleans in December 2012, after encountering a problem with its electrical system, Boeing knew about the difficulty before airline officials could pick up a phone."

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