Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Hello World,

I am not happy writing this post but I think I need to. I am writing this with the hope that the passengers of MH370 are still alive.

Image Source: http://www.thestar.com.my/News/Nation/2014/03/17/Missing-MH370-Photo-Gallery-Day-10/

Having followed the news of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 incident, which has so far reported a missing Boeing 777-200, I am here with my analysis of what might have happened.

To begin with, here's something I have to share:

Most of the B777-200 issues involve smoke in cockpit/cabin and burning smell. Engine failures are also mentioned along with lithium battery fire.

Failures do happen with the most reliable aircraft. Proper maintenance is the determining factor for continued operational reliability.

I don't think this Malaysian Airlines incident might have been an act of terror.

Image Source URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/18/world/asia/questions-over-absence-of-cellphone-calls-from-missing-passengers.html?_r=1              Primary Image Source: Malaysian Govt. (as quoted by NY Times)
The black dot to the left indicates the position of the satellite that picked the last signals from MH370 and the red arcs represent the possible positions of the aircraft when its signal was detected by the satellite.

The last seen spots for the aircraft are very close to Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia and from the map, it seems like their guarded maritime borders must be very close.

Assuming that the perpetrators switched-off comm. systems, the aircraft would have still been visible on the radars of any of the countries' naval bases.

When they spot an aircraft without an authorized digital signature, the bases raise an alarm and categorize it a security threat, the news of which will flash immediately on the media as they might even initiate military action when unidentified aircraft continues to remain anonymous in their airspace in spite of Identification, Friend or Foe (IFF) interrogation from the respective civilian/military ATC.

Also in case of a highjack, the detour forced by the hijackers will be over or towards the nearest foreign land and not over the ocean, across the homeland as indicated by the maps in news.

So if the aircraft has been highjacked and is safe somewhere, the perpetrators have friendly forces within the concerned naval bases which is unlikely to happen.

The way I see it, the aircraft went through a GNC (Guidance, Navigation, Control) failure owing to an accidental fire (most probably in the electrical distribution buses) resulting in a disconnected power system. The generators are usually connected to the engine/gearbox from where they get the source power.

I will acknowledge the possibility of a mechanical failure resulting in rapid decompression, knocking everyone on-board unconscious but in that case, the aircraft debris would have been spotted somewhere along the designated flight path. Cabin decompression need not instantaneously knock-out the transponders alone and still allow the pilots to ‘Detour’ as being claimed by the recent news. The probability is too low for the possibility to be weighed upon others, in my view.

My friend who is an expert in civil aviation regulations and aircraft maintenance reminded me about the Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) that will send the signals in case of an unforeseen accident. True indeed. But there could only be two options to this: 1. The ELT disintegrated during the accident 2. The signal was detected but covered up for reason unknown. I am not completely aware of ELT's 'working range' and the requirements for its signals to be picked up. The fact remains that the very mention of ELT has not occured until now.

A triggered blast (terror attack) would have resulted in instantaneous disintegration of the aircraft and it may not have detoured as being claimed by the news reports, quoting the military.

As long as the engines run, the generators are on but if the connecting buses burn out, the power will not reach the dependent systems. The Auxiliary Power Unit is there and if the accident has occurred in stages spanning at least a few minutes, the pilots would have had the chance to utilize the back-up power to raise a distress signal. They however are trained to aviate, navigate and then communicate. To aviate the aircraft, engines alone can buy some time but to navigate and communicate, electrical power is required which is what they lacked as they detoured hoping they are going back over their homeland for an emergency landing. (Based on the detour track suggested by recent news reports).

Also for an advanced jet aircraft weighing 230-280 tonnes (max. design take-off weight), controlling itself requires large control surfaces that are operated with control systems that run on electrical power.

Flight controls and instruments get top priority when it comes to using electrical power. The flight controls have at least one dedicated source while access to the other auxiliary units. The instruments have access to multiple sources too. Redundancy is the key feature for electrical systems of aircraft, especially the large commercial ones.

Since the electrical systems are connected with the engines, any problem with them will eventually impact the engine as they are connected. This means that a fire in the electrical system can propagate to other parts of the aircraft, including the engine and fuel storage. 

With 2 Integrated Drive Generators, 2 Electrical Distribution Buses and 1 Auxiliary Power Unit (alternator driver by an auxiliary gas turbine), the aircraft facing an instantaneous power system failure is very unlikely unless it had been an instantaneous blast which contradicts the ‘Detour Theory’ that has surfaced quoting the military as a source. 

If the ‘Detour Theory’ had been true, then the aircraft had flown after the commencement of the power system failure, which had happened in stages giving the pilots time to raise a distress signal which contradicts the ‘No Distress Signal Received’ claim. 

If, in my opinion, by the remotest of chances, the aircraft had been highjacked, transponders forcefully switched-off and the event ended in a secret safe-landing of the aircraft after a detour, then the terrorists had crafted a fool-proof plan and the pilots are in-arguably the top-notch aviators of this era to have achieved such a thing using limited instruments under life-threatening circumstances. But I can only wish it were true.
When the electrical power system fails, the pilots don't have access to all the onboard instruments. They have to navigate using the available analog, pitot-based instruments and just hope to see some land before they can execute an emergency landing. If the analog instruments have digital displays, then they will not function as well.

Around 1 am, in the dark, flying at about 40000 feet, failed instruments are the most probable reason why an aircraft would go on a detour. An act of terror would have announced the highjack and taken the aircraft towards a foreign land and landed.

Also the military radar and satellite signal reception data were released after a few days from the incident. Why did the military not take efforts to declare an unidentified aircraft?

If the satcom satellite picked up a signal, then the satcom system on-board was on and that points at the connectivity of the aircraft with the flight operations via satcom. Why is the flight operation not mention that before? How come, there was no distress signal received by the flight operations?

Generally a commercial aircraft is expected to have at least 3 VHF channels (at least 1 datalink), 2 HF channels (1 HFDL), Satcom (based on the news of satellite picking signal) and ACARS. How can the 'No-Connectivity-with-the-Aircraft' be trusted?

How would this be possible on an aircraft with 2 generators, 1 APU and the communication systems capable to function on 28VDC (they can be powered by battery pack if the gensets are out).

If it is an Inmarsat satellite (I am not sure), then Inmarsat covers up to around 82 degrees on either side of equator, which takes us to the next question, how did the aircraft stay out of satellite connectivity until the 2.40 signal pick up incident. Satcom satellite are there for seamless connectivity.

The news releases seem to be concocted to support a future pilot-error/terror-act-gone-wrong theory that will eventually shut the case tarnishing the flight crew's credibility. What do you think of this?

Summing up, in my opinion, based on the limited knowledge and understanding I have, the aircraft encountered an electrical system failure resulting in total GNC failure. The aircraft either disintegrated in air and fell into the sea or crashed into the sea and drowned. I also suspect, someone apart from the pilots, cabin crew and passengers learned about this unfortunate incident as it happened but had no way of helping them out other than hoping that the pilots would do miraculous emergency landing which had not happened.

I honestly wish that the events turn out to be something else and I be proved completely wrong. 239 lives definitely mean more than the analysis of a curious Research Analyst.

A clear closure to this case will be a public release of the black-box data. 

Regulators should take this as a lesson and make ‘Always-On/Never-Off’ transponders and on-board health monitoring systems mandatory for commercial aircraft, redefining the flight operations standards accordingly. Preventive control is the only way to avoid such mishaps in future.

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  1. This is a great article!
    Thank you for your effort and contribution.
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  2. It is nice to see that Mr Motts has explained the possibilities. Even there is a total electrical failure the pilot could have still radioed the distress signal, which has not happened. This leads to the probability that every thing happened perhaps within a fraction of second.

    1. Thanks Mr. Balachandran Paruthikkat. The way they are covering up the incident, it seems they knew what happened. They might even have the black box as we discuss the possibilities. It could have been the instantaneous blast as you suggest. Flight operations ask ATC guys to pass on messages to their aircraft to save the per data/message pricing. They have so many ways they could have got in touch with the aircraft and vice versa. But a 'no-comms-whatsoever' indicates two possibilities, either the systems had no power to operate or there was a distress call and nothing could be done. Instantaneous blast would have resulted the aircraft floating along its designated flight path. Just my thought. Do you really believe the pilots made no contact with flight operations?

  3. The "Doppler shift" explanation of the southern path offered by the Malaysian government is not physically credible. Some evidence is being manufactured - it cannot be real.

  4. Well written Motts. I agree whatever happened most certainly was instantaneous.
    I do have a problem with your last suggestion-- Always-On/Never-Off’ transponders. This is not possible. Transponders do go bad. They sometimes "squawk" the wrong codes and controllers must be able to have the pilot to turn off the transponder. This alleviates 2 aircraft emitting the same codes within the same air traffic control centers airspace.

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Thanks for the comment!!! Have a good one!!!!