Two years and tax money wasted

Another month has rolled by and still the Boeing 777 of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 has not been located, though a few aircraft bits suggesting an attempted ditching in heavy seas have been turning up.

Martin Dolan, head of the Australian Transport Safety Board, which is not a specific aviation entity, was supposedly confident that MH370 would have been found by now.

I am hopeful but not confident because only now has the ATSB-led operation begun searching farther south and west to the likelier position of a ditching by a rogue pilot intent on hiding the aircraft in as remote a location as possible.

The search has been conducted on either side of the seventh arc — the notional flight path established by electronic “handshakes” — based on the nonsensical theory of unresponsive pilots because of hypoxia or a similar event.

But the search area should have been extended to allow for a controlled descent.

In other words, for two years the search area has been in the wrong location.

There are only two months left before the search is terminated.

It must be tough going for the crews of the search vessels in those heavy seas and strong winds. Not for nothing are the latitudes south of 40 degrees known as the roaring forties. It is also distressing for the relatives of those who were on board MH370, some very disillusioned with the ATSB and the ­Malaysian authorities, as they have indicated to me.

Why did the ATSB go with an unresponsive pilot theory when it was obvious to airline professionals that the aircraft was under control when it turned southwest three minutes after the captain said good night to Kuala Lumpur air traffic control, and was still in control 90 minutes later when it turned south just north of Sumatra? This was after careful tracking along the Thai-Malaysian border, swinging past Penang (where I lived for two years) and up the Straits of Malacca.

This decision lacked any logic and showed a total lack of understanding of airline procedures on which pilots are trained and retrained every six months in simulators to handle any of these emergencies.

Who made this wrong decision that has had the effect of hiding the pilots from scrutiny? Did it come down to the ATSB from above? Was it former deputy prime minister Warren Truss, under whose portfolio the search fell, or former prime minister Tony Abbott, ­desirous of cosying up to the ­Malaysian government and thus avoiding difficult questions?

The ATSB has a somewhat chequered history.

It has been criticised by pilots for its handling of the Norfolk ­Island Pel-Air Westwind ditching, where the pilot was hailed as a hero but then summarily “exe­cuted” by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and the ATSB.

Its rail accident investigations have been found by experts to be slow, overly lengthy and unable to establish cause, or the correct cause, and not demonstrating ­independence (see the paper Lessons from Australian Derailment Investigations by rail engineer Ross Mitchell and solicitor Adam Bisits presented to the International Heavy Haul Association, Perth, in June last year).

Now comes the MH370 search. Does the A in ATSB stand for “amateur”? Is it composed of ­taxpayer-funded, self-appointed armchair experts with no relevant qualifications to enable them to make sound judgment on these ­issues? The identity of individuals who investigate is kept ­secret. Self-appointed armchair “aviation experts” abound and are a real problem in getting the media to acknowledge what is real and what are conspiracy nutcase ­theories.

I lived in the Middle East for 15 years and watched a lot of CNN. The CNN aviation correspondent, Richard Quest, has written a book about MH370 of which he is very proud. It promotes the theory of brave pilots being overcome by a situation they failed to handle such as a serious technical fault (yet the aircraft flew under control for another seven hours).

All very rare problems such as rapid ­decompression, fire and ­engine failure are easily handled by well-trained professional pilots — that is what they are there for.

Quest then rejects pilot suicide based on his knowledge of the human mind. How can a middle-aged English­man understand the mindset of someone from a different race, culture and ideology half a world away?

In his writings last month to mark the second anniversary of the disappearance, Quest criticises me. He mentions “scurrilous” ­assumptions.

Well, if anyone is qualified to express an expert opinion on what happened in the cockpit of MH370, I am.

I have flown for three airlines. I have five airline pilot licences: US, European, Australian, Middle Eastern and New Zealand. I have flown thousands of hours as captain of Boeing 777s and flown many times out of Kuala Lumpur and across the Indian Ocean. What is Quest’s qualification other than a big ego and ­an interesting TV persona?

In Australia we have our share of armchair “aviation experts”. I heard one clown (with no relevant flying qualifications), described by 2GB radio talkback host Steve Price as an “aviation expert”, suggest that any of the passengers could have hijacked MH370 as lots of people these days, with their Xboxes and home computer cockpit simulators, would be able to fly the B777. And pigs might fly.

What an insult to airline pilots. I suppose those with Xbox Grand Prix could compete with Sebastian Vettel in an actual car. How out of touch with reality these “aviation experts” are.

In the three minutes from when the captain said good night to Kuala Lumpur air traffic control, the supposed MH370 passenger hijacker would have to get past the cabin crew, through a locked ­reinforced cockpit door, overpower the pilots, turn off the transponder, turn the aircraft southwest, then disable the ACARS (Aircraft Communications ­Address­­ing and Reporting System) — not an easy thing to do.

The National Geographic Air Crash Investigation team, in its MH370 TV special in December, debunked all the theories of hypoxia, fire, technical fault and massive structural event and is solid in its conclusion that it was a rogue pilot hijack by the MH370 captain.

Why is this important? It concerns liability. Under the Montreal convention, payout for a death due to accident is about $200,000 but in the event of proven pilot suicide, which results in the murder of 238 innocent people and is therefore a criminal matter, the liability may be unlimited.

An article recently in The Australian described Malaysia as being one of the 10 most corrupt countries. Perhaps the ­Malaysian Prime Minister could donate some of the $US681 million ($884m) mysteriously ­deposited into his personal bank accounts to the cost of the search for which the Australian taxpayer is funding an excessive amount?

I strongly believe, as do my airline colleagues, that MH370 captain Zaharie Shah deliberately planned and executed this mission to hijack the aircraft and attempted to cover this up by ditching in as ­remote a location as possible, in the most unsurveyed, inaccessible place on Earth 6km deep so it would not be found and his crime of murder would remain unsolved.

It is time the heavy hitters of the media demanded an explanation from the government and the ATSB about why they ignored professional aviation advice and wasted two years of time and taxpayers’ money by pushing the ­illogical pilot unresponsive theory that has absolutely no evidence to support it.

Byron Bailey, a veteran commercial pilot with more than 45 years’ experience and 26,000 flying hours, is a former RAAF fighter pilot and trainer, and was a senior captain with Emirates for 15 years, during which he flew the same model Boeing 777 passenger jet as Malaysia Airlines MH370.


Source: Two years and tax money wasted

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