Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Heed the lessons missing flight has taught us

By Gong Honglie (China Daily) Updated: 2014-12-22 10:20

This year has been one of military and political crises, with some involving direct confrontations between major powers. Perhaps the only exception is the disapperance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370. Despite being far removed from "hard politics", it brought the world together in an unprecedented global search mission.

Although the disappearance of a large modern plane on a routine commercial flight is still unbelievable, the incident broke our illusion of being able to locate anything with the help of modern technologies. What caused the almost impossible to happen? Could more flights vanish?

Twenty-six countries used satellites, airplanes, ships, submarines and other modern devices in the first round of the search mission that lasted a month. And as the search progressed from one day to another, relatives and friends of the 239 passengers and crew members started losing hope of their survival.

What happened to MH370 might never be known, or be known only decades later. Yet like all major air disasters, the incident revealed the drawbacks of the aviation industry, which have to be fixed to prevent "another flight from disappearing".

Perhaps the greatest technological lesson to be learned from the incident is that a plane should be monitored during the entire stretch of its flight. With modern information technology, it is possible for flights to transmit live data to ground bases through the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, which has been in use since the 1990s and which played a key role in determining the final route of MH370.

Even if some airlines cannot adopt the system for financial reasons, they could at least improve the data-recording technology. Currently, flights mainly use black boxes to record data. But the data are used only to analyze the cause or causes of an accident. Besides, black boxes are not totally reliable. The black boxes of the two planes that crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept 11, 2001, were damaged beyond repair, and that of Air France flight 477 was found two years after it crashed.

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