The big story for last month was the disappearance of a Boeing 777-200ER; Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 on a flight path from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with the apparent loss of all 239 people on board. What has amounted to one of the greatest modern day aviation mysteries; how can a modern commercial airliner just vanish from the skies? The plane’s modern communications systems were seemingly switched off immediately prior to the aircraft changing course and disappearing. After a month of searching, the multi-national taskforce has narrowed down the search area to an area of the southern Indian Ocean. Coordinated by Australia because of the search zone’s proximity to Australian Waters, bullish messages from the Australian Prime Minister, Mr Tony Abbott would suggest that finding of wreckage is not far away. However at the time of this article, no such confirmations of any wreckage had taken place. Until the wreckage and particularly the black box voice and data recorders are located, speculation will continue as to what has caused this terrible disaster.
So what are the upshots from the disaster? Undoubtedly many changes will occur once the aircraft’s debris is located, analysed and learning occurs. However improvements in standards of aircraft tracking technologies have to be one such improvement.
CNN have reported that Canadian Aviation Company FLYHT Aerospace Solutions offers a product that facilitates automatic reports of unusual activity on a plane through live satellite streaming. This technology is not affected by the loss of a plane’s transponder system signal and is independent of other systems that could be disengaged by the aircraft’s crew while in flight. At AU$100, 000 per installation per aircraft, the cost of such devices on a global scale is massive. However, when you consider the mounting cost of this international effort to find MH370, the cost of making such technologies compulsory is worth serious consideration.
The International Air Transport Association recently released a report on air travel statistics between 2009 and 2013, revealing a noteworthy five-year average of 19 fatal aircraft accidents per year, in a total of 36.4 million flights per year. While advancements in the operations and airworthiness elements have undoubtedly improved safety in air travel, until such time as aircraft being fully automated, there will always be some human factor that dictates that the aircraft will remain susceptible to some risk of deliberate or accidental acts leading to systems failure or pilot error and disaster.