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The facts of the missing plane MH370

Ravikumar Madavaram, Consultant for Aerospace & Defense, Frost & Sullivan Asia Pacific | March 11, 2014
Historical evidence suggests that there are 6 major reasons for the disappearance of aircraft.

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.


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