Malaysian plane drama fuels aviation security rethink

Malaysian plane drama fuels aviation security rethink
Stars are seen in the sky above the southern Indian Ocean as a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion aircraft returns to Perth from its 11-hour long flight searching for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, March 22, 2014. China said on Saturday it had a new satellite image of what could be wreckage from a missing Malaysian airliner, as more planes and ships headed to join an international search operation scouring some of the remotest seas on Earth.

KUALA LUMPUR - As the hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 enters a third week, the piecemeal returns from one of the most intense, international searches in living memory have delivered a public and institutional shock that could force a major rethink about aviation security.

The fact that a Boeing-777 equipped with state-of-the-art location tracking technology could vanish for so long, is in itself, aviation experts say, shocking enough to compel changes in the way commercial aircraft are electronically monitored.

One priority would be to enhance tracking coverage for a plane in an emergency situation that forces it beyond the reach of conventional radar systems.

It was modern satellite imagery that pointed MH370 investigators to a remote part of the Indian Ocean 2,500 kilometres (1,500 miles) southwest of Perth, but the physical search for debris in the area had to rely on less sophisticated methods -- binoculars held to the windows of spotter planes.

If a crash site is finally located, investigators will have to rush to find the plane's crucial "black box" before it stops emitting its tracking signals.

"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 AFP.

"I expect there will be a real examination of the kind of recording technology we have right now in airplanes, a debate on how they are designed and how long they can last," Galaviz said.

Live data streaming?

"There will also be discussion about live satellite streaming of such data so that it can constantly be monitored," he added.

The separate flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder currently send pings for about 30 days -- a timespan that could well be reconsidered given the unprecedented length of the search for the Malaysian airliner.

The mystery of MH370 owes much to the abrupt nature of its "disappearance".

Nearly one hour into its flight, both its automated signalling systems ceased to function and the plane dropped off civilian radar.

The immediate assumption was of a catastrophic event that plunged the plane into the South China Sea before any distress call could be made.

But sketchy satellite and military radar showed that, in fact, the aircraft had veered sharply off course, backtracked across the Malaysian peninsula, and then flown on -- possibly for hours -- in a northerly or southerly direction.

 
 
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