Today’s news from the Malaysia prime minister on the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 is the worst scenario. Unimaginably awful for the relatives of those onboard, who must now deal with a whole raft of possibilities about what happened to their loved ones. And terrible for the airline industry, which once again becomes the weapon of choice for those with ill intent.
We still don’t know where the aircraft is or precisely what has happened to it. But the prime minister’s confirmation that the aircraft’s transponders were deliberately turned off by someone onboard and that the aircraft likely flew for some hours afterward on a track completely away from its planned flight path is shocking.
Malaysia Airlines is correct when it says this is a truly unprecedented situation for the entire aviation industry.
Whether this act of sabotage was conducted by a terrorist organization (the Malaysia government says this is not the number one theory of the investigation) or a was a criminal act/hostage attempt by an individual or individuals is not known. But the airline industry will take a hit from this.
The immediate priority, of course, remains to find the aircraft while simultaneously pursuing a criminal investigation. But it is now also imperative to find the answers to who did this, why and how? All international resources and efforts must be harnessed because of the global significance and implications of this terrible act.
Separately, the industry should begin work on identifying how best to identify and utilize some type of subset of data from the enormous amount of information that modern airliners produce on their health and whereabouts. That capability could potentially prevent a future airliner from simply vanishing off radar and vastly help narrow a search and rescue operation.
The fact is that two of the most recent and catastrophic modern airliner events – that of the Air France Airbus A330 that crashed into the Atlantic in 2009 and MH370 – had one thing in common. Both “vanished” from ATC tracking and both required extensive search efforts.
The airline industry is incredibly safe, transporting some nine million people a day to destinations round the world and with more than 6,000 people boarding an aircraft every minute. But new lessons will be learned from MH370 and new solutions will have to be found.