Malaysian Flight #MH370 – further comments

As a former aviation safety regulator, I blogged yesterday about this disappearance and made a case that MH370 may be intact and on the ground in Central Asia.  It beggars believe that this aircraft vanished a week ago and no one has any idea where it is – unbelievable in a day and age when you can track anyone’s mobile phone, but more believable when you look at the facts. Here is an interesting article by an informed journalist:  http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2014/03/15/flight_370_disappearance_why_i_think_the_missing_airliner_could_be_in_central.html

He makes the case that the radar coverage between Asia and Central Asia is going to be patchy because of poor equipment in poor countries, and military radars are often badly maintained and possibly only switched on when they think they need it.  There is massive reliance on secondary surveillance radar (the transponder) which transmits from the aircraft to the ground,  Normal radars transmit from the ground to the aircraft, the signal bounces off the aircraft and is reflected back to the ground.  All that is seen is a radar paint, ie, a blip on a screen.  If the transponder is switched off at night over an area of low population, the aircraft can be effectively invisible.  In addition, if the crew wanted to avoid being seen by radar they can fly at low level, below the radar horizon.  This would require a lower speed and result in a reduction of range but that’s what military aircraft do to avoid detection.   The experience of US drones over Pakistan backs this up; they operate with impunity.  We like to think that our skies are completely secured but, in reality, in many parts of the world, they are not.

Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah has a home-made flight simulator at his home.  Some commenters are suggesting that this is sinister.  It is not.  Many aviation enthusiasts have them and there are many shops that sell everything that you need to make one (have a look at http://www.aviationmegastore.com/).  Microsoft sell simple home flight simulator software but you can buy far more sophisticated stuff, including instrument panels and all  of the cockpit controls.  Think of it as a computer game.  Sinister?  No.  Sad?  Maybe!

So, if the aircraft was hijacked by its own crew, the obvious question is ‘why?’

1.  Theft of the aircraft?

Absolutely not.  Every component in that aircraft will have an identity and would be unsellable.  If you give Boeing or Rolls-Royce a serial number, they will be able to tell you who made it, when and where.  That applies to every sub-assembly and assembly, every component . We used to say that an aircraft doesn’t leave the ground until the paperwork weighs more than the aircraft.  Well, in the days of electronic data storage that doesn’t quite apply, but the principle is the same.  No.  You could not sell one bracket without it being traced back to its origin.  It’s called a quality system.  It’s what aviation does.

2.  Theft of cargo?

Possibly, but then why not hijack a cargo aircraft and avoid having to deal with 239 innocent passengers and crew? I wonder what’s in the hold, however.

3.  Political point?

Much has been made of the Captain’s strong political views.  Well, I don’t know the guy but I know Malaysians and you honestly could not meet a race who are collectively amongst the loveliest people on earth.  Maybe we all have political views but we don’t hijack aircraft then stay silent for over a week, do we? I don’t buy it.

4. Suicide?

It was done before on a Malaysian aircraft in 1977 by a hijacker but since then we have armoured and locked cockpit doors, so if that was the motive, then it is the crew that wants to commit suicide.  But, if that is the case, would you fly for 6 hours over the sea before doing it?  Of course not.

Did it go north west or south?  Northwest has land with over 600 airfields.  South has sea and islands and not much else.   Which would you choose?  Northwest is Central Asia.

The conclusion that is emerging is still that the aircraft may be on the ground in Central Asia.  The aircraft may have some future use, as yet unclear, but this means that the passengers and crew may be alive and, if not well, at least alive.  We live in hope.

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One Response to Malaysian Flight #MH370 – further comments

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