Haystack, meet Needle!

There is a lot of emotions out on the social networks and in the open air. It is fair that this is the case. Those who are genuinely smitten with emotion through a connection, there is not shame and no blame. On March 8th 2014 Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 left Kuala Lumpur never to be seen again. Yesterday after groups of people dedicated to finding any evidence of what happened to this flight, spanning a timeline of a little more than 2.75 years, the search has now been halted. The family members of the 239 casualties (227 passengers and 12 crew) are beside themselves. No grave to remember, no answers to what happened. The first piece of MH-370 was discovered on 29 July 2015 on Réunion Island. As the place where it was found is 180 degrees away from the destination it was headed to, we have no idea what happened. There have been many speculations, including one on a suicidal pilot. That issue I discussed in ‘Bad Journalism‘ (at https://lawlordtobe.com/2014/03/25/bad-journalism/), to counter these speculations, I added one myself that was not based on malice and not that far-fetched. Consider that there was an issue with the cabin pressure, this might have been disastrous, by the time the pilot realised in what danger he was, he changed the autopilot by 180 degrees knowing that he would crash in the ocean, knowing he would not crash into a city or in any place that could cost the lives of so many more. It was not an original idea, but at least there was no malice. We can speculate even further, but it would remain speculation. There will be no answer for the families of the lost.

I made my prediction long before the piece on Reunion was found, which makes it not more credible, only less incredible. Yet in this haystack that is called the Indian Ocean, finding one plane is not a realistic option.

Yet, why is MH370 still an ‘issue’. You see what happened is rare and unlikely, yet in all this, the black box would have been instrumental in getting answers. What is interesting is that the Black Box is technology that has been obsolete for a long time, in this age when we have flights with in-flight movies, internet and inflight mobiles, can anyone explain why the black box is not mirrored to a secure cloud location? Let’s face it, the plane is already there, so why not save it on the spot? By the way, this black box obsolete thing is not new, it is a discussion that has been going on for well over a decade. With the ability of internet on flights for even longer than that (not for passengers though), how come the airlines did not adjust their technology? Greed? Budgets? Complacency? Your guess is as good as mine, I actually do not know. In their defence, we can agree that the events of MH370 are so rare that the act of one flight should not impact on the roughly 104,000 flights that happen every day. The math does not bear this out. Yet, with ships one ship changed everything. It was the Titanic, who on April 10th 1912 got a little more ice in their bucket lists than they bargained for (Too soon?).

You see that disaster started the establishment in 1914 of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), and they still govern maritime safety today. So, perhaps MH370 will also become the foundation of an essential change that will spark changes too. There might be too much luggage to deal with the black box, yet having an additional system that cannot be interrupted, one that pushed a data line every 600 seconds so that the log will show essential data no more than 20 minutes from the last location, which in this case would have been invaluable. A 1024 character blip with the most important data of location, heading, speed and flags. The Black box will have all the high level details, but the people would never end up in the dark like this ever again. A simple solution whilst the bulk of the required hardware is already in place. It seems like such a waste not adding such functionality, more important, with the proper technology available for well over a decade, why was this not done sooner?

 

The fact that something like this has not been the show stealer at the aviation trade shows is a little beyond me.

When we get back to the Guardian, we see as reasoning ““It has been a costly exercise but it hasn’t been a factor in the decision to suspend the search,” he said. “We’re in a position where we don’t want to be providing false hope to the family and friends.”“, I cannot disagree (at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/18/malaysia-airlines-flight-mh370-australia-says-cost-didnt-force-suspension-of-search). 2.75 years is a long time, I reckon we can state that the ‘costly’ side was surpassed well over a year ago. In this haystack called the Indian Ocean, which is 73.56 million km² in size, even as part of that pond can be ruled out, this ocean is still equal in size of Africa and Asia together. The fact that something this big has swallowed the MH370, a place not just the size of two continents, it has an average depth of 3,890 meters with places where the maximum depth is 8,047 meters. To find anything in such a place, with canyons, crevices and on top of that current speeds that can get up to 5 miles per hour. In this haystack, the size of Mount Everest, a group of dedicated people have dedicated well over 2 years to fine a needle. Anyone claiming it needs to continue should not look at the cost, they need to look at the fact that you are asking dozens of people to commit their life and the size of their career to look for something that does not have a lot of chance to be found. If it is found it will be nothing short of a miracle, especially with the lack of facts available. The people who have been doing this know all this and still they committed to this. An exceptional collection of people!

So even as I implied certain matters, last June, the Guardian (at https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jun/30/uk-satellite-firm-inmarsat-helped-track-mh370-fit-sbs-on-airbus-jets) gives us ‘Inmarsat’s SB-S service renders conventional black boxes obsolete and could prevent air crashes‘, I am actually not certain whether that is true. You see, the quote “It beams flight information via a satellite to an airline’s control centre within seconds, capturing real-time data about what is happening on board the plane“, which sounds like nice marketing, yet when we consider that there are 105,000 flights every day and that some areas have atmospheric conditions that make data transfer not that reliable, or at the very least an issue, now consider that ‘real time’ data would need to be analysed. The math doesn’t add up and as for preventing a crash, when that happens it is usually too late. The best we can hope for is that the cause is detected, comprehended and prevented in the future, which is fair enough, and in addition the updates with locations would have prevented the ordeal of the family members of the MH370 victims.

So, as I see it, this is an interesting piece, even though it is mainly about marketing and in that, the quote “A former pilot, captain Mary McMillan, who is Inmarsat’s head of safety, said SB-S technology could not only help identify the cause of accidents but could even prevent them“, it is the ‘prevent’ claim that I have a small issue with. Not because of my abilities as a pilot (which is limited to the PC (Flight Simulator 2004), the Xbox One (Elite Dangerous) and the PlayStation 4 (No Man’s Sky). Yes, with all that knowledge I make this claim. You see, my reasoning is that no matter how fast the data comes, it comes as the event is already taking place. Taking into consideration that the Pilot in place is the actual expert with support of a co-pilot and engineer, this pilot gets many times the information than is transmitted. It is a mere reality that does not make the solution invalid, incorrect or useless. It merely gives more information that after the fact will be invaluable. So as such Inmarsat is bringing a solution, perhaps even an innovation, one that could perhaps at some point replace the black box. It sounds cold, but yesterday’s news on the halting of the search for MH370 could be a big break in visibility of Inmarsat and the product line they offer.

With the MH370 search suspended, we will see more and more questions regarding these decisions and more and more emotional rebuttal on the halting of the search. I will not oppose that, especially against the people who are dealing with the loss of friends and family, yet in my mind, I see the resources needed and the chance of any level of success. In that I accept the end of the search, I just wished that there was something that could be achieved for those who lost anyone on MH370.

Perhaps a better way to use the Lenz effect to find a chunk of airplane, a submerged drone with a different kind of scanner? Perhaps a nice challenge for engineers with a massive dose of imagination?

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