Why Didn't Malaysia Airlines Buy A Cheap Upgrade That Could Have Tracked Lost Jet?
Is It Unethical For Passenger Airlines To Carry Hazardous Cargo?
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Yesterday the Malaysian prime minister said MH370 crashed to offer some closure to the families, but that will not happen until debris and the black boxes are found and analyzed.
The question remains, why did Malaysia Airlines skimp on a cheap upgrade that would have better tracked the plane?
The technology already exists to immediately relay the black box data via satellite, but some commercial airlines have refused to invest the money in such systems, as bottom lines come under pressure due to rising fuel costs and increasing competition.
A simple computer add-on that Malaysia Airlines didn't buy would have provided information to help find the plane and could have prevented the long wait before a conclusion to this very sad episode, a report said last Thursday.
A similar system enabled searchers to locate the Air France jet that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009. Wreckage from that plane was found within five days.
Save $10, Lose a $260 Million Airplane
The missing Boeing 777-200ER is believed to have disappeared with little trace by turning off its transponder and Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (Acars).
The Washington Post reported that an upgrade to an airline's system calledSwift - which costs around $10 per flight - would have enabled MH370 to transmit data about its trajectory and position even after the plane's transponder systems had been switched off.
It could have also sent information on engine performance, fuel consumption, speed, altitude and direction, regardless of whether the transponder and the Acars system were working.
The data that Swift provides is mandatory under international aviation guidelines for airlines that fly the North Atlantic corridor between the United States and Europe. There are no such requirements standards elsewhere in the world.
The question remains, why isn't it mandated as it is for the US and EU?
Boeing Should Have Bundled It For Free
The Swift system is similar to a cellphone that sends data to a satellite.
It sends information to the airline, but can also be programmed to send data to the manufacturer - usually Boeing or Airbus - and the engine maker - usually Rolls Royce or Pratt & Whitney, The Washington Post reported.
But some airlines have decided they don't want to pay the higher cost for an information stream that they deem unnecessary except under the most extreme circumstances, the report said.
Asked why an airline might choose not to buy an application that sells for a relatively modest cost, a satellite industry official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to The Washington Post said, "Every pound on an aircraft is fuel consumed. As in all matters, it always comes down to cost."
Rather than stream that data, he said, some airlines choose to download it onto a USB stick once the plane lands.
Because Malaysia Airlines went with the cheaper option, he said, "there was not an awful lot that was captured."
To recap: $260 million for the airplane, and Boeing charges extra for the software upgrade.
Aviation Security Rethink
Aside from the tragedy and all the unanswered questions, perhaps we can acknowledge that there may be some positives that come out of it.
One priority would be to improve tracking coverage in emergency situations when the plane goes beyond the coverage of conventional radar systems.
This event underscores the need to break some taboos in the cockpit and consider installing video/security cameras to catch improper management of the flight controls.
Airlines should also no longer decide what safety features they wish to include or skimp on.
There should be emergency buttons throughout the plane to alert the cockpit and the ground that there is a problem, just like they have on buses and trains.
"There's no doubt that what has gone on is one of the greatest mysteries of modern aviation and it will have an impact on the global aviation and airline industry," Jonathan Galaviz, partner at the US-based travel and aviation consultancy firm Global Market Advisors told Agence France-Presse.
The airlines may move faster if top regulators such as the FAA and the European Aviation Safety Agency decide to make such systems mandatory for their respective jurisdictions within a set deadline, he said.
The concern is that passengers entrust their lives with these foreign airlines. Many codeshare with our national carriers, just as Malyasia Airline is in theOneWorld Alliance. You're in these remote areas and wonder about their oversight, but a foreign government is in control and you can't question its management.
The Cargo Question
Should hazardous materials be flown on commercial aircraft, with the passengers unaware?
News coverage has glossed over the Malaysia Airlines' cargo: lithium batteries. The CEO of Malaysian Airlines said they were 'small' and 'not hazardous'.
There are two types of lithium batteries: small ones which are lithium metal, and larger ones that are rechargeable and are lithium ion. The smaller ones are more dangerous and pose a more significant fire hazard than the larger ones.
Lithium batteries are so hazardous they caused the loss of a UPS jet on September 3, 2010 in Dubai. The cabin became filled with deadly smoke in less than three minutes. There were no survivors.
DOT's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration banned the transport of lithium batteries in passenger aircraft in the US in 2004. Malaysian airlines took 13 days before they reported that this hazardous cargo was on this aircraft. For all we know the combustible cargo burned through the floor and fell out, allowing the 'ghost plane' to fly until the fuel ran out.
Just 11 days before MH370 took off, airlines were placed on red alert over potentially catastrophic fire risks from lithium mobile phone batteries.
The warning was issued by French authorities last month after a fire on board an Air France Boeing 777 in 2010 was found to be caused by a phone's lithium battery.
FAA Maintains Boeing 787 "Safe"
A report released last week makes the astonishing claim that the 787 Dreamliner reliability is the same or superior to the 777 - despite scores of emergency landings, numerous canceled flights, several fires and a nearly unprecedented four month grounding of the entire fleet.
The FAA report also found no fault with its policy of delegating most of its safety oversight functions to Boeing.
It also did not address battery fires and other safety incidents that are still being investigated by the NTSB and the accident investigation agencies of Japan, UK and India.
In addition, the unprecedented number of claims by Polish, Indian and Norwegian airlines against Boeing for 787 defects and reliability was not discussed.
At its March 21 meeting, FlyersRights president Paul Hudson, a member of the FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee, questioned why the FAA failed to respond to FlyersRights and the Aviation Consumer Action Project's formal petition calling for reduction of 787 authorization to two hours from three hours of flight time from the newarist landing zone until the airliner has demonstrated two years of trouble free operation, as has traditionally been required of other two-engine aircraft flying long distances over water.
The FAA representative declined to say when a response would be forthcoming.
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