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ATW Editor's Blog

AirAsia QZ8501: Note differences, not speculative ‘similarities’

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As efforts continue to find the missing AirAsia Indonesia Airbus A320 operating as QZ8501, the general media is already drawing supposed similarities with two previous airliner tragedies of 2014 – Malaysia Airlines MH370 and MH17.

The danger here lies in the supposition that underpins so-called news reporting and the baseless suspicion and rumor mill it creates.

For one thing, we still know very little about what caused QZ8501's disappearance (for that matter, we know very little about MH370, the Boeing 777 that remains missing but is believed to be deep in the South Indian Ocean).

But known facts so far point to more differences than similarities. MH370 and MH17 were both widebodies – 777-200s; QZ8501's was a narrowbody, an A320-200. The first two were operated by a traditional, flagship company with a long history – Malaysia Airlines. QZ8501 was operated by an Indonesian budget carrier (whose 49% owner is AirAsia, a Malaysian-based company started in 2001 by entrepreneur Tony Fernandes).

And almost the one thing that is known so far about QZ8501is that there was bad, stormy weather in the area that the A320 was flying. Weather may or may not be a factor in its disappearance, but we do know it was not a factor in either of the 777 incidents.

Most important, we know that MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Ukraine. It was flying its correct, approved route and other airliners were on similar flightpaths at the same time. It could have just as easily been any of those aircraft that was brought down by a missile that is believed to have been fired by Russian-supported rebels. I cannot help thinking that had it been a US airliner, the outrage and repercussions would have been far more consequential. But whatever, there are no reports or knowledge of SAMs in the area that QZ8501 was flying.

If there's any single known similarity that can be drawn it is that Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia both had excellent safety records before  2014 and this also should be borne in mind.

It may well be that the fate of QZ8501 will lead to stronger calls to improve continuous aircraft tracking, an effort already underway thanks to an IATA-led task force set up after MH370’s disappearance and which issued its report earlier in December.

But with so little known at this stage, it’s unhelpful and misleading to speculate the supposed “solutions” to a thus-far unresolved mystery. Let’s leave that work to the real experts – the investigation authorities and those professionals in the air transport industry. The rest are armchair amateurs.

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