During a recent conference in London the Royal Aeronautical Society’s Flight Operations Group (FOG) solicited the views of a select group of speakers representing pilots, airlines, manufacturers and regulators about the various scenarios that might have led to the loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. At least one contradictory statement accompanied each of the plausible explanations, however, suggesting more than one causal event occurred simultaneously, according to one expert. “If it was hypoxia, then who turned the aircraft?” he asked. “If it was a fire, then how did it continue flying? If it was the flight crew, then why did the cabin crew not intervene?”
The FOG asked whether or not the aircraft could continue to fly after it depressurized. Respondents agreed to the possibility, and that such a scenario could explain the initial change in altitude and heading, as well as the subsequent lack of communication. It could not explain why or how the Acars and transponder switched off, however.
In the event that toxic fumes overcame the occupants, the pilots should have had the ability to send a distress call, and that scenario again doesn’t explain the disabled Acars and transponder. The respondents also characterized the possibility that an onboard fire damaged the communication system as unlikely because the airplane would not have flown for as long as it did while a fire continued to burn.
On the possibility of a hijacking, the respondents noted that the aircraft did not fly to another destination, nor was it used as a weapon for a terrorist attack. Furthermore, no one has claimed responsibility for any such act, nor have investigators found any possible motive. Finally, the theory that the pilot or copilot deliberately diverted the airplane does not seem to hold water because, again, no one has found a motive and, if one or both had attempted suicide, the airplane wouldn’t have traveled as far as it apparently did.
Surveyed on their opinions about the event’s implications for the aviation industry, the respondents suggested the likelihood of a change in ATC procedures governing when an aircraft must make contact; improved communications between different international civil and military organizations; the need for airlines to establish and activate a “crisis cell” in the event of aircraft accidents; and a requirement that aircraft positions and status be transmitted regularly to airlines and manufacturers—if the industry shows a willingness to bear the expense of installing such systems.
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