Technology research news Return to previous page
Article Released Tue-11th-March-2014 10:04 GMT
Contact: Administrator Account Institution: ResearchSEA
 Comments on the missing Malaysia Airlines plane MH370

By Ravikumar Madavaram, Consultant for Aerospace & Defense, Frost & Sullivan Asia Pacific.


Follow up one on one interviews with the press are welcomed, please contact Melissa Tan at melissa.tan@frost.com or Carrie Low at carrie.low@frost.com.


The facts of the missing plane MH370

Malaysian Airlines MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur in the early hours of 8th March to Beijing. Within 2 hours of the flight, the aircraft lost contact with all ATC’s. There was no distress call made by the pilots. The aircraft was flying at 35,000 feet and the weather was clear. It has not been found till now (4 days after the loss of contact).


1. What is the best explanation for this?

At this point, this is speculation as there is not enough information available. However, historical evidence suggests that there are 6 major reasons for the disappearance of aircraft.


1. A combination of technical and pilot errors leading to a snowballing effect – There is no single factor which generally leads to an airplane crash but a combination of technical glitches and pilot decisions. Each of these glitches and decisions taken independently are harmless and often happens. It is the combination of these factors that lead to a catastrophe. This is what happened to Air France 447. There was no distress signal from Air France 447 as the pilots did not realize that they were going to crash until 10 seconds before crashing.


2. Structural disintegration – This can refer to the structural failure of the aircraft which cause the pilots to lose control of the aircraft. This last happened to China Airlines Flight 611, during its cruise at 35,000 feet in 2002. Flight 611 was a Boeing 747 aircraft and the reason for that crash was faulty repair. The Boeing 747 is an aircraft with older technology (20 years earlier) compared to a Boeing 777 (The Boeing 747 entered service in 1975 while the Boeing 777 entered service in 1995). The new aircrafts coming into the market use better materials, technology and maintenance schedules compared to earlier aircraft.


3. Human Factors – Deliberate actions by the passengers or pilots to crash the aircraft. The 9/11 World Trade Centre incidents brought this to the fore.


4. Bad weather – Inclement weather conditions such as snow, fog, rain, ice can affect the performance of the aircraft, which is likely to result in a crash. These weather conditions affect the critical stages of aircraft like landing and takeoff. However, MH370 had clear weather through the flight and was during the calmest period of flight, cruise.


5. Total Electrical Failure – This predominant occurs in general aviation aircrafts. There are 3 types of electrical power sources - 2 generators (each engine has one), APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) and RAT (Ram Air Turbine). For the aircraft to have total electrical failure, all three systems should have failed at the same time. This is quite rare and has not happened. This happened to a Qantas flight in 2008 in Bangkok. The Qantas flight landed safely with backup power from APU. Electrical failure from generators is an incident that needs to be reported back to the ATC and request for rerouting.


6. Hijack - It is also possible that the aircraft was hijacked to an unknown location. This possibility can be ruled out based on the following reasons:


· Skipping all the radars - when there are many country borders around the vicinity of the aircraft last point of contact, the aircraft is a big aircraft (radar cross-section of Boeing 777 would be bigger)

· Hiding the aircraft and passengers for 4 days,

· Using a runway/airport with no witnesses and

· No group claiming to have hijacked the plane


2. What kind of distress signal is expected when a crash happens? Will electrical failure affect the distress transponders or beacons?

Regulations require commercial civil aircraft to have Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELT). They are activated during a crash based on the G force they experience (gravity force) or by pilots input. Another beacon is attached to the flight recorder or the black box which is called Underwater Locator Beacon (ULB). The black box beacon is activated when it comes in contact with water.

Assuming the aircraft crashed on water, the ELT's would have sent signals, but they are not waterproof. The ULB starts emitting signals the moment it touches water.


Important facts to note:


· Although the aircraft might be emitting an automatic distress signal, there might not be anyone listening to them every minute. And these signals have a range within which there might not be anybody listening to them.


· The crash sometimes happens within a time frame of 15 minutes (AF447) and pilots may realize that a crash is imminent only 5-10 seconds before a crash. Only after 30 minutes to an hour, does the ATC realize that something is wrong and starts looking for the aircraft, by which time, the beacons are well underwater.


· The Under Water Beacon (ULB) can emit a signal for hundreds of miles. But if the black box is covered with debris or falls into a trench at the bottom of the sea, then the strength and range of the signal would be lower.


The ELT and beacons use their own batteries and electrical failure does not affect them.



3. Should the beacons run out of battery, what are the options?

The batteries of the beacons of the black box beacon are designed to last 28 days. If the black box beacon battery dies and the plane is not located within that time, then the only hope is to find the debris and try to work backwards from there on.

Keywords associated to this article:
Create Account...