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MH370 Preliminary Report released

(Please note, this matter is not currently being litigated in Australia)

The Malaysian Ministry of Transport has released the preliminary investigation report into Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 which disappeared on 8 March 2014 while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The 5 page report (which can be found here) detailed the initial investigation into the disappearance of the flight and the history of the search operation up to 9 April 2014. The report included:

  • A list of actions taken by authorities between 01:38 and 06:14 on Saturday 8 March 2014;
  • Maps of the aircraft’s possible flight paths;
  • The cargo manifest for MH370; and
  • The MH370 seating plan.
The report also sets out one safety recommendation with regards to the ability to locate aircraft in a timely manner. The recommendation by the Malaysian Air Accident Investigation Bureau reads as follows:
It is recommended that the International Civil Aviation Organisation examine the safety benefits of introducing a standard for real time tracking of commercial air transport aircraft.
Since its release, the report has been widely criticised for lacking substance. The recommendation to include real-time tracking for aircrafts should have been made more forcefully, especially as the same recommendation was made by the French authority responsible for safety investigations into civil aviation accidents (the BEA) following the crash of Air France flight AF447 in 2009.

While the Malaysian report makes a vague reference to flight AF447, it does not expand on any of the recommendations made in BEA’s 2009 preliminary report nor work done by the international community thereafter.

The BEA report into AF447 made several recommendations to the European Aviation Safety Agency and ICAO in relation to the importance of the data contained on flight recorders in order to establish the circumstances surrounding an accident, and locating and recovering an accident site. These included recommendations such as making it mandatory for international aircraft to:

  • Transmit frequent flight parameters (such as position, altitude and speed);
  • Implement additional deployable flight recorders; and
  • Be required to have batteries on underwater locator beacons (ULB) installed on flight data recorders, permitting a transmission time of 90 days.
While ICAO has not made significant progress in reaching agreed international rules in relation to some of the recommendations set out above, under Appendix 8 of Annex 6 to the Chicago Convention, one of the general requirements for flight recorders reads as follows:
At the earliest practicable date, but not later than 1 January 2018, this device shall operate for a minimum of 90 days.
Interestingly, there may already be considered an implied obligation on all ICAO states to be pursuing efforts to ensure that ULBs have a 90 day battery life in order for easier detection of flight recorders in deep water, and away from coastlines. Evidently, Malaysia has not yet imposed this requirement on their air carriers.

As the world comes to terms with the fate of MH370, many international aviation authorities are examining ways in which they can increase safety to ensure that a similar incident does not happen again.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is one of the first international bodies since flight MH370 disappeared to make proposals in relation to flight recorders and locating devices. In their 6 May publication, EASA announced that the requirements for the transmission time of underwater locating devices (ULD) on flight recorders be extended from 30 to 90 days battery life. The EASA also purports to equip large aeroplanes flying in remote areas above the ocean with ULDs that have longer locating range capabilities than the flight recorders currently fitted in aircraft. Along with this, it is suggested that aircraft be fitted with some other means that will allow authorities to determine the location of an accident within 6 nautical miles accuracy.

In addition, EASA recommends that the Cockpit Voice Recorders installed on large aircraft be required to record for a minimum duration of 20 hours. This is an 18 hour increase from the current 2 hour mandatory recording time.

India’s civil aviation regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has also been quick to set new rules with regards to aircraft tracking. They have proposed new requirements for real time tracking, asking it’s carriers to use onboard Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) or Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Broadcast (ADS-B). The regulator has also requested that airlines develop and implement procedures that will be able to track aircraft over remote areas where the above systems cannot provide coverage.

While the report on MH370 provided necessary information, the lack of detail included in the report indicates that its main focus was to satisfy the curiosity of the public, rather than provide families with answers they deserve regarding the quality and results of the search so far. It is unacceptable that after 58 days of extensive search efforts to locate missing flight MH370, Malaysia simply recommends that there needs to be some way to track aeroplanes.

ICAO is set to convene later in the month for a special meeting of global airline flight tracking where they will review new means of expediting the location of accident sites, in light of the attention MH370 has brought to this issue.

Accompanying image from Russavia, used under the following license. Image modified from its original state.

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: May 11, 2014.

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