In the News

‘Can’t compare MH370 to Air France crash’


The comparison of search and rescue (SAR) responses between the case of Air France Flight 447 (AF447) and Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 (MH370) is ‘unfair’, said defence analyst Lam Choong Wah.
“I think this kind of mindset is incorrect. You are racing to the bottom (by) comparing to the worst case. We already have a precedential case. You can learn a lot of lessons from it.
“However, you didn’t. But right now you compare with it and say we did better. I don’t think this kind of comment is good,” he said.
He was responding to the fact that Malaysia took four hours for Malaysia to notify the Kuala Lumpur Air Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC) that MH370 is could not be contacted, and Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein’s (leftrebuttal that it took six to seven hours in the case of AF447.

The minister added that the circumstances in each case is different, and it is up to MH370’s international investigation team to determine whether the four-hour delay is acceptable.
AF447 had gone missing while flying over the Atlantic Ocean in 2009, and most of its wreckage including its black box was not found until 2011.
MH370 went missing on March 8 this year and is yet to be found.
Lam pointed out that French Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) investigation report on AF447 hadhighlighted poor coordination between French, Brazilian and Senegalese authorities as one of the reasons for the delay in ARCCs of an emergency.

Among other problems, Brazilian and Senegalese air traffic controllers spent hours contacting each other about AF447’s location and estimated arrival times, without even contacting Air France’s operations centre.
Eventually – two hours and 45 minutes after last communications with AF447 – another Air France flight passing through the same area, informed the operations centre of a possible problem.
It was 6 hours and 30 minutes since last contact with AF447 before an alert was first alert was sent to rescuers, and nine hours and 29 minutes before the first search aircraft took off, partly due to the lack of a joint SAR protocols between Brazil and Senegal on contrary to the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) regulations.
“In my opinion, I don’t think the Malaysian government took note of the incident and recommendations made by the BEA (on how to avoid repeating the mistakes),” he said.
He believes this is why Hishammuddin thought Malaysia had performed better than the handling of the AF447 incident.
Emergency response

As a signatory to the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, he said Malaysia should have abided by ICAO’s protocolson emergency response.
He said it required the ARCC to be notified in 30 minutes of losing contact with MH370, to go on ‘Alert’ in 60 minutes if further attempts fail to reach the aircraft, and finally escalate to the ‘Distress’ phase of emergency response if more attempts also fail.
In addition, the senior fellow at the DAP-linked think tank Refsa also raised questions on the military’s protocols, and queried why the air force did not respond to an unidentified aircraft flying across Peninsular Malaysia and towards the Andaman Sea.
Shortly after MH370 disappeared from civilian radar and was diverted from its original flight path, military radar tracked it as an unidentified aircraft flying from off the coast of Penang until it left radar coverage over the Andaman Sea.
Lam (left) said he does not know the military’s procedures, which are usually kept secret. However, the ICAO has guidelines on how to deal with unidentified or stray aircraft.
These procedures are laid out in ICAO Document 4444 (Air Traffic Management), he said, and includes attempting to contact such aircraft and alerting military authorities.
“Since the 9/11 incident, air forces all over the world learnt lessons from it. They continuously did a lot of drills and exercises on how to intercept stray or unidentified aircraft also,” he added, referring to the terrorist attack in New York and other places in the US on Sept 11, 2001, involving hijacked aircraft.
Notable example

One notable example of a stray airliner being intercepted was the Helios Airways Flight 522 incident in 2005, where a Boeing 737-300 aircraft flew off-course and did not respond to attempts to contact it.
He said two Hellenic Air Force fighters were scrambled to investigate the Helios flight, and saw that the co-pilot was unconscious, the captain was missing, a person was waving at the fighter pilots from the cockpit, and oxygen masks had been deployed. It crashed 30 minutes later after running out of fuel.
“So the question arises,” said Lam, “Did ATC (air traffic control) or MAS conformed to this particular provision? Did they do it?
“This is the international standard. With regards to military standards, I don’t know because military documents should be highly classified information, but we can assess from the international standard. I hope Hishammuddin can comment on this,” he said.
Previously, when questioned on why MH370 was not intercepted although its identity could not be ascertained at the time, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak replied that air defence officers were certain that the aircraft was not hostile.
This was because although the identity of the aircraft was unknown, it behaved like a commercial airliner, he said.


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