Jun 022014
 

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June 1, 2014 marks the five-year anniversary of the disappearance of Air France flight 447 into the mid-Atlantic Ocean. Like Malaysia Airlines flight 370, remarkably, Air France flight 447 was called by international aviation safety experts back then, as one of aviation’s greatest mysteries in history.

History can repeat, but oftentimes in different cycles. Sometimes we just have to reboot history to make clearer decisions and judgement about how history repeats.

Discussed in this article on this important anniversary date is how poignantly similar are these two historical aviation safety mishaps.

More importantly, experts, like myself, are beginning to slowly resign ourselves to the possibility that when or if a ‘black-box’ surfaces from MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean, human factors errors will indeed be the cause of the Boeing 777-200 loss, during the early morning hours of March 8, 2014. Just as much as human factors errors are attributed to the loss of the Airbus A330-200, during the early morning hours of June 1, 2009.

Remarkably poignant pilot last words conveyed from MH370 and AF447 cockpit voice transcripts to air traffic control are forever etched into our minds. Both of these final cockpit transmissions convey so much about human judgement inside an airliner cockpit during a crisis and what really happened on-board.

In both aviation safety mishaps, cautiously, I surmise what happened was nothing short of chaos.

Why am I now speculating that there was chaos on-board MH370? I am using history to inform my speculation, as I was taught by my late Harvard professors, Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May, and their book, “Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers.” Thinking in Time grew out of a course I took, taught jointly by Richard Neustadt, a political scientist, and Ernest May, a historian, at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Time, patience, and a missing plane will tell us, if history indeed repeats, and if hopefully, MH370 is recovered. Equally as remarkable as, AF447 being lost five years ago today is the fact that it was also subsequently recovered.

The Air France Airbus 330-200 was the first and only airliner crash recovered from oceanic waters since 1948! Investigators in this case had a significantly better understanding of AF447’s last known position along a rather straight-line trajectory across the mid-Atlantic Ocean from Rio de Janeiro to Paris during the early morning hours on June 1, 2009. Whereas in the case of MH370, the Boeing 777-200 was last observed near the top of the Malacca Straits before the airliner proceeded to fly over a vast oceanic arc into the southern Indian Ocean for some time far away from its intended flight path from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing during the early morning hours on March 8, 2014.

AF447 Anniversary now calls for airlines to ensure no more MH370 again.

Cockpit computers inside digital airliners, like a Boeing 777-200 and an Airbus A330-200, must be operated by highly-skilled pilots, capable of managing magnificent machines and devices that can either increase or reduce the possibilities of mistakes being made.

68th International Air Transport Association (IATA) annual general meeting in Beijing 11 June 2012

The reality of these similar aviation safety mishaps in AF447 and MH370 lost in remote oceanic regions of the world has captured the attention of aviation experts of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), as they convene for their 70th Annual Meeting and World Transport Summit, starting this week, June 1-3, 2014 in Doha. The focus of the summit meeting is to enable its 240 members, comprising about 84 percent of global air traffic, to discuss the future outlook of the airline business sector, its growth and industrial organization.

IATA Director General Tyler addresses delegates as he opens the 69th IATA Annual General Meeting and World Air Transport Summit in Cape Town

Photo Credit: Reuters, Mike Hutchings, International Air Transport Association (IATA) Director General Tony Tyler addresses delegates, as he opens the 69th IATA Annual General Meeting and World Air Transport Summit in Cape Town, June 3, 2013.

 IATA officially agreed last week prior to its 70th annual meeting in Doha “to come up with proposals for better tracking of commercial aircraft by the end of September. IATA said its members would implement measures voluntarily, before any rules were in place,” reports Reuters.

“In principle the community has agreed. There’s no question this is something we need to do,” Nancy Graham, director of International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO’s) Air Navigation Bureau, told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.

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“We are developing the voluntary path and a rule for the future. We intend to have regulation to support that globally.”

Asked by reporters whether the cost of implementing new standards was a stumbling block for airlines, Graham said: “Not at all, they’re absolutely in solidarity. There’s no price you can put on safety or certainty on where the aircraft are.”

In the aftermath of the MH370 and AF447 accidents, additional questions still shaping discussions among IATA experts meeting in Doha, which must include discussions with the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA), and the International Federation of Air Line Pilot Associations (IFALPA), are either: (1) whether training, instrumentation, and cockpit procedures can be modified all around the world so that no pilot will ever make this mistake again, or (2) whether the inclusion of the human element will always entail the possibility of a catastrophic outcome. “After all, the men who crashed AF447 were three highly trained pilots flying for one of the most prestigious fleets in the world. If they could fly a perfectly good plane into the ocean, then what airline could plausibly say, ‘Our pilots would never do that’?”

Something clearly happened on-board both lost airliners.

Human judgement is the cause of nine of ten aviation safety mishaps. Oftentimes, some external factor comes into play that may cause on-board human operators of airliners beyond their control to lose their best judgement under crisis. Clearly, AF447 pilots, and perhaps even the pilots of MH370, panicked inside the fog of rapidly performing under severe safety crisis, while adhering to the ole’ adage — aviate, navigate, communicate.

Chaos discovered on-board AF447. Damn it, we’re going to crash,” reported The Telegraph (U.K.) on April 28, 2012, regarding AF447 pilot’s last words on the early morning hours of June 1, 2009.

With the wreckage and flight-data recorders lost beneath nearly 3 miles of the mid-Atlantic Ocean, experts were also forced to speculate back in 2009 for well over 2-3 years using the only data available: “a cryptic set of communications beamed automatically from the aircraft to the airline’s maintenance center in France.”

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The AF447 mystery might have never been solved, were it not for the remarkable recovery of AF447’s ‘black boxes’. Upon the analysis of their contents, the French accident investigation authorities were then properly positioned to verify their initial suppositions of the Airbus A330-200 safety breach. An even fuller picture of the arliner’s safety mishap emerged with the French publication entitled, Erreurs de Pilotage (Volume 5), by pilot and aviation writer, Jean-Pierre Otelli, which includes the full-transcript of the AF447 pilots’ conversation.

A synopsis of what occurred during the course of the doomed Airbus A330-200 airliner’s final few minutes is here.

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As Popular Mechanics found in their cover story about the crash, “the data implied that the plane had fallen afoul of a technical problem — the icing up of air-speed sensors — which in conjunction with severe weather led to a complex “error chain” that ended in a crash and the loss of 228 lives.”

The official document released by French accident investigators echoed human error, reported The Telegraph (U.K.), back on April 28, 2012. “There is no doubt that at least one of AF447’s pilots made a fatal and sustained mistake, and the airline must bear responsibility for the actions of its crew. It will be a grievous blow for Air France … And the reason for that fatal lack of awareness lies partly in the design of the control stick — the “side-stick”— [then] used in all Airbus cockpits.”

The mystery of the AF447 crash had taken three years to resolve. AF447 involved just as costly of an international search across the mid-Atlantic, covering 17,000 square kilometers of hazardous unmapped sea bed to depths of 4,700 meters (about 2.92 miles). Equally as remote as MH370’s presumed southern Indian Ocean location, were the hazardous southern waters along the equator between Brazil and Africa, in which the AF447 Airbus A330-200 plunged.

After nearly two years, “robot submarines located the aircraft’s flight recorders, a near-miraculous feat that reopened the biggest crash inquiry since Lockerbie,” The Telegraph (U.K.) said.

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“Prior to the recovery of the recorders, the cause of the [AF447] disaster could only be inferred from a few salvaged pieces of wreckage and technical data beamed automatically from the [Airbus A330-200] aircraft to the airline’s maintenance center in France. It appeared to be a failure of the plane’s pitot (pronounced ‘pea-toe‘) tubes — small, forward-facing ducts that use airflow to measure airspeed. On entering the storm [in which AF447 suddenly flew into in the early morning hours of June 1, 2009], these had apparently frozen over, blanking airspeed indicators and causing the autopilot to disengage. From then on the crew failed to maintain sufficient speed, resulting in a stall which, over almost four minutes, sent 228 people plummeting to their deaths.”

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“But why? Normally an Airbus A330-200 can fly itself, overriding unsafe commands. Even if systems fail there is standard procedure to fall back on: if you set engine thrust to 85 per cent and pitch the nose five degrees above the horizontal, the aircraft will more or less fly level. How was it that three pilots trained by a safe and prestigious airline could so disastrously lose control? Either there was something wrong with the plane, or with the crew. Airbus and Air France, both with much to lose, were soon pointing accusing fingers at each other,” questioned The Telegraph (U.K.) on April 28, 2012, once the AF447 mystery was clearly reaching resolution.

The Telegraph (U.K.) further questioned: “But the airline’s case seemed thin. All indications suggested the aircraft had functioned just as it was designed. The black box recordings showed that the plane was responsive to the point of impact. The case against the pilots looked even worse, when a transcript of the voice recorder was leaked. It confirmed that one of the pilots had pulled the stick back and kept it there for almost the entirety of the emergency. With its nose pointed too far upwards, it was little wonder that the Airbus had eventually lost momentum and stalled. But this analysis begs the question: even if one pilot got things badly wrong, why did his two colleagues fail to spot the problem? The transcript of increasingly panicky conversations in the cockpit suggests they did, but too late.”

This was further confirmed by technical experts of Popular Mechanics. “We now understand that, indeed, AF447 passed into clouds associated with a large system of thunderstorms, its speed sensors became iced over, and the autopilot disengaged. In the ensuing confusion, the pilots lost control of the airplane, because they reacted incorrectly to the loss of instrumentation and then seemed unable to comprehend the nature of the problems they had caused. Neither weather nor malfunction doomed AF447, nor a complex chain of error. [Rather instead, what doomed AF447 was] a simple but persistent mistake on the part of one of the pilots.”

Chaos speculated on-board MH370. Good night, Malaysian Three Seven Zero, as MH370’s final message on the early morning hours of March 8, 2014, reveals an official calm before generally suspected chaos aboard MH370’s missing Boeing 777-200 airliner.

All we were at first left with from air traffic control communications, handing off MH370 en route to Beijing in the Gulf of Thailand sea region, was “All right, good night.”

However, this was initially leaked and unofficially translated and mistakenly reported by international media, such as CBS News and The Telegraph (U.K.), as MH370 pilot’s last words and final flight MH370 message at 1:19 am on the early morning hours of March 8, shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Later, on March 30, 2014, however, the Ministry of Transport of Malaysia released the official transcript between the MH370 pilot and Malaysian air traffic controller, which reveals MH370’s final message at 1:19 am as, “Good night, Malaysian Three Seven Zero.”

Ron Bishop is a former U.S. Air Force commander of 23 years. He headed up the U.S. Air Force rescue and special operations school. Now an aviation lecturer at Central Queensland University, Bishop spoke to News Corp Australia, reporting on June 1, 2014. Mr. Bishop has a view that “what happened to MH370 was not sinister and was not the result of some mad conspiracy or the fault of the pilot or copilot.”

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“Mr. Bishop thinks more likely it was a mechanical issue, a fire perhaps, or smoke in the cabin, which caused the pilots to start turning instruments off in a bid to isolate the problem, hence the transponder and communications systems being switched off at the time the pilot attempted to turn the plane around and fly back to Malaysia.”

“We know they took a left turn and came back towards Malaysia and that would suggest they had a problem,” Mr. Bishop said. “They lost cabin pressure or something overcame them … Then the plane just flew itself until it ran out of fuel.” Everyone on board had passed away well before it plunged into the ocean.”

Mr. Bishop finally warns that theories, based on little other than rumor and innuendo, pointing the finger at the pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, or the co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, have made little sense.

I believe this is absolutely correct. But, I do surmise panic and clouded operational judgement may have began upon the onset of chaos on-board MH370. Like an Airbus A330-200, a Boeing 777-200 also flies itself, digitally overriding all unsafe commands, regardless if systems fail as numerous redundancies are in place to recover the safe mode of operation of the airliner.

Regardless of the millions of dollars the airliner search will cost, like in the case of AF447, it is imperative that we find MH370 in order to clearly determine what actually happened to the Boeing 777-200, like we ultimately found out what happened with the Airbus A330-200 back in 2011. This was achieved once the AF447 ‘black-boxes’ were recovered. Thereupon experts were well-positioned to avoid the same thing ever happening again.

The loss of MH370, still a mystery on this five-year anniversary of the loss of AF447, brings forth ironically the question we have avoided ‘the same thing ever happening again’.

Hopefully, once again, ‘black-boxes’ of MH370 will be recovered. Indeed, that will be international breaking news. Just as much as recovery of the ‘black-boxes’ of AF447 was.

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“Something failed and we need to find out what that failure was so we don’t do it again,” Mr. Bishop said.

Photo Credit: MEHDI FEDOUACH, AFP/Getty Images. The flight data recorders from Air France flight 447 lost in the mid-Atlantic Ocean is displayed in front of journalists during a press conference in 2011.

MH370 did an unexpected turn during cockpit crisis and chaos.

Authorities around the world remain convinced that the plane turned around, says News Corp Australia, then flew back over the Malaysian peninsula, over the top of Indonesia and down into the southern Indian Ocean, where it plunged into the sea. What authorities do not know is exactly where inside the southern Indian Ocean did MH370 plunge to its resting place.

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Last week authorities finally bowed to pressure from the grieving families on-board and released the raw satellite data, from the British satellite communications firm, Inmarsat. One of ten of Inmarsat’s satellites in the earth’s stratosphere located 38,000 kilometers above the region was used to track the Boeing 777-200 airliner after it was last spotted on military radar at 2.22 a.m. over Penang, Malaysia.

Although a large part of the 47 pages contained in what was released by the Malaysian government was largely confusing numbers and figures, Inmarsat did provide a short synopsis of their analysis, which has been explained on LinkedIn Pulse Airlines and Aviation, “Mystery Behind MH370 Search Released.”

“A team of experts from Inmarsat and the highly-respected British Air Accident Investigation Board, had crunched the figures and came up with the view that MH370 flew down a southern arc,” concurs News Corp Australia.

Seven times the plane did a “partial handshake” communication with the Inmarsat satellite over a six-hour period — specifically at 2.28 a.m., 3.41 a.m., 4.41 a.m., 5.41 a.m., 6.41 a.m., 8.11 a.m. and finally at 8.19 a.m. (or specifically at 18:28, 19:41, 20:41, 21:41, 22:41, 00:11, 00:19, local military radar times, respectively shown below on the global map). At each of these times, the plane was somewhere along a specific arc, as shown. Although exactly where on any specific arc, no one can absolutely determine at the moment. This presents an especially difficult challenge in pinning down exactly where MH370 plunged inside the vast southern Indian Ocean.

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The final handshake with the Inmarsat satellite was at 8.19 a.m. According to Australian officials reporting to News Corp Australia, general consensus by experts are that along this last seventh specific arc (shown in the photo farthest right at 00:19) is where MH370 was falling from the sky in the southern Indian Ocean, based on the trajectory of the previously shown Inmarsat satellite communication handshakes.

“It was only a partial handshake probably because by this time the plane had run out of fuel and shut down. It then powered up again, probably due to emergency turbines which start automatically in the event of power failure to allow some equipment to operate. Figures done based on the satellite handshakes also indicated that at the seventh arc MH370 was out of fuel,” Australian investigators and officials report to News Corp Australia.

I believe this is compelling MH370 data and information revealed this week by Inmarsat, now also marking this AF447 five-year anniversary date.

The area of this arc covers 60,000 square kilometres, leaving an enormous sweep of the southern Indian Ocean that now needs to be searched.

Fundamental law of airliner search strategy: History repeats in different cycles.

History shows indeed this question is not an uncommon case since 1948! History also says our chances for a successful recovery here are remote.

Yet, given the successful recovery of Air France 447 back in 2009 from the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Brazil, we do have significant patterns of human factor errors inside that Airbus A330-200 airliner cockpit (naturally under different circumstances and cycles) from which to speculate properly about what may have happened to MH370 (under equally extraordinary circumstances and cycles).

This is why I find the chart below equally as compelling, with historical data and information in which many should examine and take pause to contemplate just how challenging the MH370 mystery is in relation to the AF447 mystery, which was eventually solved.

Disappearances of Large Airliners Since 1948

Photo Credit: Bloomberg Visual Data

Photo Credit: Bloomberg Visual Data

Both of these enormous aviation safety mishaps share a common question: How could a Boeing 777-200 or Airbus 330 airliner simply vanish or fall out of the sky?

Air France 447 vanished in the Atlantic Ocean back in 2009. Within days floating debris was found and recovered. However, it took investigators more than two years to locate the wreckage and ‘black-box’ of the missing Air France 447 airliner off the coast of Brazil in the Atlantic Ocean.

Each day a lost airliner rests at the bottom of the deep seas, be it the mid-Atlantic Ocean or the southern Indian Ocean, such harsh oceanic conditions makes the airliner search extremely difficult.

The Australian Joint Agency Coordination Center chief Angus Houston told CNN the hunt for the plane is even more difficult than that for Air France Flight 447, which disappeared in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009.

“The big difference between Air France 447 and MH370 is that the last known position, in terms of MH370, is at the top of the Malacca Straits, and then the aircraft continued to fly for an extended period after that,” Houston told CNN’s Anna Coren on May 12, 2014.

“Whereas [in the case of] Air France [447], they had a very good last known position, which then turned out to be very close to where the aircraft was eventually found.”

International aviation investigation of MH370 and outreach has been unprecedented.

Between March 8 and March 16, without hesitation an international search of the Gulf of Thailand and South China Sea ensued. Finding no trace of MH370, a month later, international investigation teams turned to the vast mountainous, voluminous, and remote Indian Ocean. Recovering not a single piece of debris from MH370, missing so far going into a third month, safety investigators suddenly have decided to start over the search to resume in August.

The search teams deployed have been truly international in scope with Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Maldives, Nepal, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, England, and United States, all providing maximum search and investigation resources and assets.

The search for Malaysia Flight 370 and its possible recovery has moved from the South China Sea and Straits of Malacca to the northern and southern ocean corridors, engaging as many as 21 satellites. The world’s largest deployment of assets comprised: 18 ships, 29 aircraft, and 6 ship-borne helicopters, altogether deployed between the northern and southern ocean corridors along the last Inmarsat satellite communicated partial handshake 00:19 arc. About 11 aircraft, 12 ships, and even an underwater robotic submarine, have now hunted tens of thousands of square kilometers of the southern Indian Ocean floor, until the search was stalled this week to regroup until August.

As I said on March 15 to The Washington Post and on Fox News Hannity on March 14, “There are two things missing here: the plane and patience.” We are still missing both. Patience, nonetheless at nearly two months since, has been forced upon us.

“People always want to find the solution to the mystery. It’s a natural urge.”

Besides all the talk of satellites, pings, transponders, circuit breakers, and so forth, what investigators also have on their side are basic scientific principles. Like everything else in this world, Boeing 777-200 and Airbus A330-200 airliners are bound by fundamental rules of science — things like fuel burn, lift, weight ratios and, not the least, gravity.

“Planes don’t just vanish and don’t just fall out of the sky. They go up and they come down.”

“It’s just a matter of time,” I said to The Washington Post on March 15 at the start of the MH370 disappearance. “People should be thinking more in terms of weeks and months.

This remains especially most regrettable for the families and friends of the MH370 passengers and crew after nearly two months of dealing with the tragic ordeal, as this baffling mystery continues. All we know for sure about Malaysian flight MH370 is now “it is the greatest aviation mystery in aviation security history.”

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People of all walks of life around the world have ached for the 239 passengers and crew on board a remarkably safe Boeing 777-200 vanishing out of the sky, minutes after takeoff on March 8, 2014, en-route to Beijing, China from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Astonishingly, MH370 has gone missing from the face of the earth ever since.

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We also ached for over two years for the 228 passengers and crew on-board a marvelously safe Airbus A330-200 plunging suddenly into the mid-Atlantic, hours after takeoff on June 1, 2009, en-route to Paris from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Speculations and conspiracy theories the world over have been naturally unrestrained for MH370, just as they were ironically unrestrained for AF447, even at times imaginative, five years ago today. First, it was believed MH370 and AF447 were deliberately veered off-course.

Thenceforth, it was revealed two stolen passports were used to board MH370 by a couple of passengers originating from Iran. It was later concluded they were in all probability seeking asylum.

Then came the collusion and depravity theorists arguing the Malaysian, and at times the French government’s disaster response has been either troublesome at times insensitive, or unreasonable every now and then bizarre.

Discontentment from China elevated the monies spent alongside the stakes shouldered by who among the world’s super powers was responsible at various twists and turns of the story to lead the international search. Similar responsibilities were felt by Brazil and France.

Recalling the two year wait for recovery of AF447’s wreckage, few breakthroughs at the moment have been achieved in recovery of even the smallest piece of debris from MH370.

Encapsulating, it is the social, technological, educational, economic, and political dimensions of both the Missing MH370 Mystery and the resolved Missing AF447 Mystery that says so much about our collective decisions on international transportation safety and security. These mysteries have drawn in the world’s super powers and leaders, who, like each of us, remain befuddled at how a super technological marvel of aviation safety as a Boeing 777-200 or an Airbus A330-200 could simply disappear from the sky.

A formation of geese was flying south for the winter, and one bird near the back asked another, “How come we always follow that same odd leader?”

The other replied, “He’s got the map.”

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  One Response to “Five-Year Anniversary of AF447: MH370 Déjà vu?”

  1. […] back to my recent LinkedIn Pulse Airlines & Aviation article, Five-Year Anniversary of AF447: MH370 Déjà vu? on June 2, 2014 — experts, like myself, are beginning to slowly resign ourselves to the […]

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