The European Aviation Safety Agency has announced an initiative what seems to be an intelligent response to Malaysian Airlines 370.
Experienced safety professionals are rarely seen or heard speculating on accident investigations. For example, many of the early talking heads on TW 800 look foolish in retrospect. If the government had immediately reacted to some of these so called expert theories, the ridiculous regulatory actions would have been comical but for the unjustified postulated responses.
The process of determining what happened in such tragic situations is rarely straightforward. In the TWA 800 case, the responsible government authority shared what facts it knew, as soon as it knew. The Investigator-in-Charge and his team sifted through the evidence, discarded the many false leads and eventually made a finding of probable cause. When the NTSB determined that the fuel tank was the nexus of the explosion, well-crafted solutions were implemented.
The lesson is that being disciplined and allowing the careful review to unfold is sagacious. The resolution of that mystery resulted in a set of rigorous, demanding actions, but was totally justified because the exacting mechanical surgeries were directly connected to the real cause of that disaster.
With MH 370, the range of reactions figuratively exceeds the geographic scope of the oceanic search. The networks found resumed people, who postulated many plausible and implausible rationales. No airplane has been found; so the analysis of the reason for this tragedy has yet to begun.
One thing appears possible—that the crew (with or without outside help) terminated the transponders and other communication links which allow the tracking of the flight. At this point, even this potential cause is far from proven. There was some other ways in which the aircraft escaped any detection; so it may be premature to respond and take significant action.
The International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Air Transportation Association have started to examine a potentially massive response to this responsibility—the creation of a global system which can track and retain data about every aircraft which is flying . Fortunately that initiative is limited to exploring options, since this portends to be an expensive effort if carried to final implementation.
More reasonable and reasoned is the EASA announcement. First, the basis for the European study includes a known problem which needs to be rectified—the decommissioning of the transponders and communications systems by the terrorists on the September 11th flights. The aircraft were still tracked by the US surveillance systems, but this horrific event brings into question why these systems can be disengaged. Kevin Hiatt of IATA is quoted as saying:
“Speaking as a former pilot myself, if I had a particular piece of kit in the cockpit and I wanted to stop it smoking or being on fire, I could disable that.”
But that phenomena and options should be explored as EASA proposes. Siim Kallas, a vice president of the European Commission in charge of transport, was quoted “If there is even a suspicion that the ability to switch off these devices can be misused or abused, it’s logical that we make immediate changes in standards.” That more narrowly and more substantiated approach makes much more sense.
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