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Could $10-Dollar Computer Upgrade Have Helped Find Maylaysian Airliner?

Search Continues For Missing Malaysian Airliner Carrying 239 Passengers
(Photo by Senior Chief Petty Officer Chris D. Boardman/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)

According to the Washington Post, and the website Flyers Rights,  a relatively inexpensive computer upgrade could have possibly prevented the mass hysteria and confusion over finding the missing Malaysian Airliner.

According to a top satellite industry official, who works with the airline and aerospace industry, a computer upgrade that costs about $10 a flight could have helped locate the aircraft very quickly.  This official spoke to the Post anonymously due to the sensitive nature of the missing airplane, but said Maylaysian Airlines chose not to purchase the upgrade due to costs.   He said not all airliners carry it, because even an additional pound or two of equipment can add up when it comes to burning fuel.

Officials say the missing airliner was difficult, if not impossible to track after someone turned off it’s ACARS (Aircraft Communications and Reporting System) and transponder.  It then reportedly flew for another 7 hours, say officials, before coming down.  The Maylaysian Prime Minister said Monday they had evidence the airplane had gone down in a remote stretch of ocean, but none of the searching parties have been able to conclusively prove it.

A system called Swift, which operates like a cellphone sending signals to a tower,  can be installed on an aircraft, and it’s not accessible for anyone to “turn off.”   This system, depending upon what upgrade is installed, can continually feed navigation and complete aircraft engine and other performances to a satellite, and ground controllers.  Even if the ACARS and transponder were both turned off,  the Swift would continue feeding data.

Swift was on board the Air France flight 477 that went down in 2009 in the ocean off the coast of Brazil.  Although it took two years to find the actual wreckage on a plateau under 11,000 feet of water,  authorities knew virtually the exact location of where to look, within a few miles.   When it went down the ACARS and transponder were still operating, but the Swift data also narrowed the search.

Even with the ACARS and transponder turned off on the Maylaysian airliner, the Swift computer system would still have allowed for fairly precise tracking of the plane.  As it is now,  the plane could be anywhere in the Indian Ocean that is nearly the size of the North Atlantic!     Carrying the Swift system is not mandated by regulations, but many airlines use it anyway.   According to the Washington Post:

“The application wholesales for about $10 per flight, but airlines pay a higher retail fee. Some airlines have decided they do not want to pay the higher cost for an information stream that they deem unnecessary except under the most extreme circumstances.

“The need for SWIFT has never been mandated and all our aircraft have what is called the Aero H SATCOM communications systems,” Malaysia Airlines said in a statement. “This installation is sufficient to meet all of MAS’s operational requirements and at the same time meets all international requirements that enable us to fly international airways.”


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