MH370 Preliminary Report Recommends Flight Tracking

 - May 2, 2014, 11:20 AM
U.S. Navy contractors lower the Bluefin-21 autonomous underwater vehicle into the Indian Ocean from the deck of the Australian vessel Ocean Shield during the search for MH370. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense)

Malaysia’s Ministry of Transport released a preliminary report on May 1 on the Malaysia Airlines MH370 investigation that recommends equipping airliners for real-time flight tracking. The ministry delivered the report as a multi-national effort completed a second month searching for the missing Boeing 777-200, which disappeared from radar in the early morning hours of March 8.

The five-page report by the ministry’s chief inspector of air accidents, dated April 9, provides a timeline beginning with the aircraft’s departure from Kuala Lumpur International Airport on a scheduled flight to Beijing until 16 days later when the search was narrowed to the southern Indian Ocean.

At 1:21 a.m. local time, about 40 minutes into the flight, “the radar label for MH 370 disappeared from the radar screen” at the Kuala Lumpur ATC Center. The pilots were supposed to hand off to the Ho Chi Minh ATC center, which 17 minutes later “made a query to (Kuala Lumpur ATC) on the whereabouts of MH370.” The Kuala Lumpur center then “initiated efforts…to establish the location” of the 777 involving Malaysia Airlines operations and ATC centers in Singapore, Hong Kong and Phnom Penh. Some four hours later, “after all effort to communicate and locate the aircraft failed,” authorities activated a rescue operation at 5:30 a.m. local time.

According to the report: “A playback of a recording from military primary radar revealed that an aircraft with a possibility of [being] MH370 had made an air-turn back onto a westerly heading crossing Peninsular Malaysia. The search area was then extended to the Straits of Malacca.”

Authorities later established that the 777’s aircraft communications addressing and reporting system (Acars) last signaled via satellite about 27 minutes into the flight. “After Acars stopped transmitting, the satellite communication system automatically transmitted seven messages that confirmed that the system was still logged onto the network. The last message was received by the satellite ground station at 08:19” local time.

Analysis of primary radar, satellite and aircraft performance data established that MH370 flew along either a northern or southern corridor, and the search was moved from the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca. On March 24, “further analysis of the Inmarsat satellite data, using the changes in the satellites’ communication signal frequency (signal using the Doppler effect) indicated that MH370 flew the southern corridor and ended its flight in the southern part of the Indian Ocean.”

In bold-face type, the report recommends that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) “examine the safety benefits of introducing a standard for real-time tracking of commercial air transport aircraft.” ICAO will hold a special meeting on flight tracking on May 12 and 13 in Montreal. In addition, the International Telecommunications Union, which coordinates international use of radio frequency spectrum, is co-hosting a similar meeting with Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur on May 26 and 27.

Twenty-six countries fielding 82 aircraft and 84 vessels have participated in the search for MH370, according to the report.