Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Malaysian Airline and how to manage a crisis

Ok

More than 4 days ago a B777-200 aircraft in route to Shanghai was lost from the radar screens and since then a search for the missing aircraft and presumed dead crew and passenger has been in full swing.

Several years ago a Singapore Airline aircraft, Silkair 189 was lost in similar circumstances; the aircraft suddenly lost contact with it the ground -- it was found in several very small parts in the jungle of Indonesia.  The reason for the aircraft loss was never fully explained -- pilot depression was suggested but bottom line there were no aircraft piece larger than 2 feet across, the aircraft slammed into a boggy terrain in Indonesia, none of the black boxes were ever found


  1. Aside from Science fiction stories the odds that the crew and passengers survived is virtually impossible.  There are several things (unlike the Singapore airline incident) were it is evident that those in charge are incompetent.
  2. First off, aircraft are not followed by radar, civilian radars do not resemble military ones, the aircraft is not "painted" like in the war movies, rather civilian radars ping the aircraft, that responds with its call sign, its speed direction and altitude (as far as it knows).  
  3. The fact that people with stolen passports were able to board the flight is not surprising, in many Asian countries boarding a flight is still very much like it was in North America in the late 90's minimal check of documents, as long as the photo matched that was it.  So there's nothing really there, except to demonstrate that Asian airlines have old style security checks.
  4. The air control system is run by the military in many Asian countries, often because it was the military that first installed air control systems, and if its not broken why fix it.  It stayed that way because until very recently (around 20 years) commercial flights were few and far between. When I first travelled to Asia there were far fewer airlines and flight.

So far the story is simple, the fact that journalists didn't even know the basics is not entirely surprising, and shows a lack of understanding of how Asian system operate.  Now Malaysian Airline, the Malaysia Government and its military are showing the shortfall of their system.  It is evident that lots of information was available to the military but was not passed on to those who were searching for the aircraft.  The comments from Boeing and the US military assisting the search is telling as to their level of frustration.

It is now apparent that for the past 4 days the 50 vessels and aircraft were looking for the aircraft at the wrong place.  How did this happen, it no turns out that military radars saw the aircraft en route towards India -- 90 degree off its planned route towards Shanghai.

Why the miss-information?  Well first off with a poor system of reporting between the military and civilian authorities it may take time for the information to come out, if a flight was suddenly going in the wrong direction maybe it was en embarrassment as to why the Malaysian air force didn't send military aircraft to follow the wayward plane.  It turns out now that the air control had "contact" with the aircraft for a further hour -- contact was lost at 2:40 am and not 1:40 am.

The interesting aspect here is that it seems that someone wanted to keep the information away from the public -- especially with regards to the time the aircraft disappeared.  Moreover, the straight of Malacca is a pirate haven, one of the oldest, and as such Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore all have military grade radar that follow all movements in that area... Yet someone -- I doubt we will ever find out who though that they could keep that information away from the public.

The failure of crisis management at its best.

Note:  I've noticed lots of "crazy" comments on how the "Governments" want to hid their capabilities -- hence not releasing any information.  Bottom line the real problem is data overload.  You got to find the needle in the proverbial haystack.  Today RR came out with some interesting data, that they received engine information for 4-5 hours after the aircraft was supposed to be destroyed (BTW this could still be wrong or explained because of some assumption).  Everyone remembers the issue around the Air France Brazil/Paris flight that was lost a few years ago.  Aside from the transponder the aircraft broadcast data on problems at all time directly to the manufacturer, so that they can track aircraft system performance.  Anyway, my comment has nothing to do with "hiding" of data, rather incompetence!

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