The mystery of the missing airliner


MH370 was another usual flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, amongst hundreds of such flights from South East Asian countries. With a well-regarded service reputation, Malaysia Airlines (MAS) is the flagship air carrier of Malaysia, with generally good performance in meeting customer expectations. I have taken their flights a number of times, but usually for the short hop between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

For the past over 2 weeks, the world has been abuzz with the mystery of the missing flight, which originated in Kuala Lumpur, destined to reach Beijing in China. It had 229 passengers, including the crew. Such instances of missing flights are indeed rare, and there has been no official cause established for its disappearance as the MH370 is yet to be located.

While the circumstances surrounding its disappearance are mysterious, it is unlikely to be terrorism as no motive has been established, no ransom has been called, no political terror group has claimed responsibility, and generally, there has been no ownership of what happened from any quarters around the world. One is led to “derive” rather than conclude that the flight just got maneuvered by someone on board into a different direction and the motive for doing so is yet to be established.

I sometimes wonder why the Pilot gets the authority to turn off the transponder of his own flight from the cockpit – I think this is a general fallibility which is yet to be fixed across the world. Why would anyone have the authorisation to decouple the transponder ?

The other aspect is that the satellite communications capability which works so well for weather predictions and military purposes, seems to have some limitations in locating the spot of the aircraft disappearance though the location of the last handshake between a satellite and the aircraft has now been determined. There seem to be some technical challenges.

Countries seem to be worried about sharing their national radar tracking data in this world of openness when competitive governments would anyway know the limitations of their neighbouring countries. This should not have been an acceptable practice in the case of natural or artificial disasters, wherein the policy should have been to cooperate intensely without any limitations whatsoever. Even countries afar from the original location of radar disappearance do not seem to be sharing radar data freely, not wanting to expose their inefficiencies or lack of comprehensive coverage. This is nothing short of ridiculous.

Well, there are so many impatient and grieving family members of the 229 folks who seem to have completely disappeared from this world who are all waiting for some news which is more deterministic than all that they have so far heard. Let us think of them rather than worrying about national security.

No Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
22nd March 2014

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