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Malaysia & bad information

In a prior life I had dealings with many Malaysian companies.  It started in the early 90s when Malaysian Airline was a potential customer as such I took a flight from Montreal to Kuala Lumpur to meet with the CEO and his team.  What followed was a comedy of error that could have cost me my life!  Bottom line the aircraft's thrust reverse opened on take-off from Taipei airport (it was ok since the aircraft  was a B747) if that aircraft had been a twin engine (like a B777) would would have been toast, trust reverser deploying on take-off is a major problem.

40 hours later than planned I arrived at my meeting with the airline's CEO who made jokes about my late arrival -- I was too polite to say anything about the fact that it was his aircraft's technical difficulty that cause the delay, but what was amazing is that he had no idea that one of his B747 came very close to disaster. This a reflection of Malaysian society.  Malaysia is the land of double management; on one hand you have the "Bumi Putra" (son of the earth) and then you have the real management (usually ethnic Chinese) who really run the show.  It leads to a breakdown in communication, for although the real management was in the room, they could not tell the bad news to the Golf playing CEO -- these were details!

This is one story, but the truth is that I faced similar problems with many Malaysian companies.  On the bright side they are a lovely people and its a nice place to visit (especially if you like eco-tourism and diving).  But time and time again it was the same situation; talking to the CEO or CFO was a waste of time -- the guy who know was the COO (or some other title) 90% of the time he was ethnic Chinese.  He would never speak in meetings (but you could invite him/her to lunch) and then get the real lay of the land.  Still did lots of business in Malaysia, but after a few years I knew the trick, talk to the head guy, maybe play a round of golf, have a chat with the CEO and then get the deal done with the COO.

What happened on M370 may never be discovered, was it an accident what is intentional (on thing for sure if it was intentional no one left any clue).  The breakdown in communication was a problem from the very start:

  1. The pilot in Command had less then 10 flights on the B777 and the the co-pilot was on his first flight on the B777.  Yes many of the system are identical (or at least similar) to other Boeing aircraft, but similar is not the same.  
  2. The pilot in Command had around 3,000 hours of flight experience and not 18,000 is a very important factor, because he could easily be overwhelmed by the aircraft system on which he has very limited experience, and his co-pilot has never flown the type until the fatale day.  
  3. That the Malaysian airforce did not investigated an unknown aircraft flying in their airspace is a major disgrace to these countries airforce (this is why they were so reluctant in sharing information) 
  4. That Malaysian government ministers contradicted themselves over and over is a further indication that this is a country were leaders "shoot from the hip" and just make stuff up
  5. Finally, the family of the passengers received text/email about the "confirmed total loss of the aircraft" and of the death of their relatives -- shows a certain level of callousness

On a number of occasions working with Malaysian companies I came across this ability to say just about anything so as to change the topic of conversation, and then denying (often despite recorded evidence) that they said what they said.    The Malaysian's desire to look good lead to false information being distributed, their lack of experience in dealing with the 24/7 media machine (and their inability to understand the risk in saying wrong things) just made things worse -- after all this is a government that controls all media channels.  They were probably not comfortable with the crazies at CNN & FOX -- UFO and black holes were discusses as seriously alternatives to explain the loss of aircraft (but since Americans are allergic to geography) as they cannot understand how vastness and emptiness the southern oceans are as a more reasonable reason for not finding the aircraft within 20 minutes (like on their TV shows).  Other questions were never raised, why did MAS not pay the Inmarsat aircraft tracking fee?

We may never know.  On the other hand it took the French two years to find their lost aircraft -- so there is still time.


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