Rest in Peace MH370

As the last search attempt comes to an end and the Malaysia Transport Ministry releases its report on MH370, we look back at this unprecedented incident in modern aviation.

In this day and age, when locating lost mobile phones and even car keys is a matter of a few minutes on a commercially available app, it seems unfathomable that it could be possible to lose an entire aircraft – and its passengers. That is, exactly, the story of MH370, as incredulous as it seems. It has been four years but we are no closer to knowing factually what happened to that aircraft – although the final report released by the Malaysia Transport Ministry does seem to hold some veiled conclusions.

In a nutshell, the investigation (which appears to be quite thorough) concludes that there is no evidence to indicate a technical malfunction with the aircraft and there is nothing to indicate stress or any other significant changes in behaviour of the Pilot or First Officer. However, they do note that the changes in the flight pattern suggest manipulation of the controls rather than aircraft error.

From the foregoing discussion it can be generally deduced that there is no evidence to suggest that a malfunction had caused the aircraft to divert from its filed flight plan route. The aircraft’s maintenance history and events prior to the last flight do not show any issues that could have contributed and resulted in the deviation and subsequent changes in the flight path. Although it cannot be conclusively ruled out that an aircraft or system malfunction was a cause, based on the limited evidence available, it is more likely that the loss of communication (VHF and HF communications, ACARS, SATCOM and Transponder) prior to the diversion is due to the systems being manually turned off or power interrupted to them or additionally in the case of VHF and HF, not used, whether with intent or otherwise.

Similarly, the recorded changes in the aircraft flight path following waypoint IGARI, heading back across peninsular Malaysia, turning south of Penang to the north-west and a subsequent turn towards the Southern Indian Ocean are difficult to attribute to any specific aircraft system failures. It is more likely that such manoeuvres are due to the systems being manipulated.

The analysis of the relevant aircraft systems taking into account the route followed by the aircraft and the height at which it flew, constrained by its performance and range capability, does not suggest a mechanical problem with the aircraft.

Fault can be assigned to the ATC as well – how could an aircraft veer off course and disappear into the night, without anyone raising an alarm about it? Or more accurately, raising an alarm soon enough for something to be done about it?

Was MH370 accidentally or purposely shot down? Was it a suicide mission by a misguided pilot or FO? Did it become a ghost plane (due to passengers and crew being incapacitated due to lack of oxygen, for example)? We now know that these are questions that may never be answered. One hopes that there will be developments in the future which will keep such incidents from happening – maybe we could have Cockpit Voice Recorders that transmit their recordings directly to the cloud? Maybe Flight Data Recorders could do the same thing? Surely if inflight internet connectivity can be offered to passengers, then uploading data packets to the cloud shouldn’t be a problem?

Only one thing is certain: the aviation industry needs to take significant steps to ensure that aircraft don’t simply vanish – and for now, we don’t see that happening.