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Why MH370 matters

The mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 and its 239 passengers and crew has provoked a storm of comment on what the aviation industry might possibly do to prevent a similar episode.

The South China Morning Post emphasises that modern technology would help avert such tragedies from recurring. “The public outcry and concern is understandable and airlines, aircraft manufacturers and regulators have to upgrade technologies and improve safety procedures so that they know at all times where their planes are and if something is amiss,” the paper says.

Crispin Black in The Week echoed this sentiment: “This is crazy—the aeronautical equivalent of someone who refuses to use e-mail or buy a mobile phone. Live streaming of flight data should be introduced asap.”

Justin Bachman counters in a column for Business Week that real-time streaming of flight data would be “enormously expensive,” citing a 2002 study by L-3 Aviation Recorders that found that a US airline operating globally would spend up to US$300 million each year to transmit all its flight data. “Commercial airline disasters, meanwhile, are becoming even more uncommon as technology and techniques improve—in part thanks to lessons from past crashes—so there’s little incentive for investing heavily in real-time data,” he adds.

However, The Washington Post's Ashley Halsey III and Scott Higham writes that if MH370 had upgraded its aircraft data-streaming system - "Swift", that racks up just US$10 per flight - the plane might have been found by now. "The upgrade... would have provided investigators with the direction, speed and altitude of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 even after other communications from the plane went dark, said a satellite industry official familiar with the equipment."

While theories of an on-board hijacking have been shot down, The Guardian’s Gwyn Topham calls for more targeted, intelligent airport security. “The undisputed security lesson was from the two passengers who boarded using fake passports on unusual schedules using tickets bought with cash, without arousing suspicion.”

As for why no one has been able to find the missing airliner since it went down on 8 March, Charlie Campbell of TIME magazine says modern equipment cannot handle the vastness of such oceanic depths. “About 95 percent of deep ocean floor remains unmapped, but that’s almost certainly where the most sought after aircraft in history is going to be found.”

In a Sydney Morning Herald column, Tom Allard concludes that countries must learn how to work together to accelerate future search and rescue efforts. “There were passengers from 15 nations on MH370. In a globalised world, air disasters will require more international co-operation,” he writes. “New protocols for handling sensitive material between nations are needed. There are lives to be saved in search and rescue operations, and speed is of the essence.” – Lorraine Chow