Missing MH370: It's so easy to cut links to an airplane

Missing MH370: It's so easy to cut links to an airplane

PETALING JAYA - It is not difficult to alter settings to disable communications on airplanes, according to experts in the aviation industry.


Circuit breakers can be tripped to disable a transponder.

"Locate the circuit breaker and pull, that's all. The transponder has two circuit breakers in the cockpit," said an instructor with 23 years of flying experience. "The transponder can also be switched off with a flick of a switch."

A transponder is a radio transmitter in the cockpit that works with ground radar. When it receives a signal from more sophisticated ground "secondary" radar, it returns a squawk code with the aircraft's position, its altitude and its call sign.

That code is a four-digit identifying code the pilot enters into a transponder for each flight to help air traffic control recognise the plan code.

However, modern planes such as the Boeing 777 have other systems as well, such as the aircraft communications addressing and reporting system (ACARS).

ACARS can be used to send messages or information about the plane to ground personnel in real-time so they could be ready to perform maintenance as soon as an aircraft has landed.

The instructor, who has flown the Boeing 777 for eight years, said the ACARS was an independent system that cannot be switched off but it could be disabled through the ACARS manager page, which is part of the flight instrumentation.

The page allows the operator to select or de-select Very High Frequency (VHF) or SATCOM system.

However, if all boxes are de-selected, ACARS loses the capability to send messages to maintenance bases or air traffic control but can receive and display messages from them.

Another expert, who wished to be only identified as Ramon, said another possible reason could be ACARS suffering a malfunction.

"Malfunctioning of the computer can cause the loss of every single ACARS information," he said.

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