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Malaysia Airlines MH370 Hijacked – Then Crashed or Shot Down?

It has been a week. A full week since the now famous Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, has disappeared. It disappeared from radars, from air traffic control, from the map – and from the Asian skies as well…

This past (very long) week will be the food for thought and the basis for media speculation for months, if not years to come. At the current moment, after one week of contradicting information having been published, and leaked by multiple nations’ authorities and unnamed “resources familiar with the matter”, we barely know anything about what actually may have happened. We don’t know facts, other than that the plane’s transponder stopped working above the South China Sea – about one hour into the flight, and that it has never arrived to Beijing.

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER that operated flight MH370.

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER that operated flight MH370 (registration 9M-MRO)

 

The public news that were published and circulated state that the plane has not crashed around the area where it was last seen on radars, nor has it landed anywhere in the vicinity. Authorities have searched to the North, to the East, then with a sudden twist to the West last week – without proper reasoning back then. HOWEVER, the picture that is being drawn by the known – and at least twice confirmed – “facts” leads us to the conclusion that the plane must have been hijacked. Why?

The transponder was turned off. It did not simply stop working, it was turned off – otherwise it would have sent signals during a crash. And it was turned off at the right time. The plane just left Malaysian air space, saying the last words “Good night!” – so the Malaysian air traffic control would not be looking for it for a while. The plane has not yet checked in with the Vietnamese air traffic controllers – so they would not be looking for it for a while, either – giving a free, uncontrolled hour or so worth of head-start flying time for the hijacked plane, before any civil authorities would start looking for it. The transponder being off simply takes it off the civilian radars as well. By the time military radars pick it up and start checking it – in the middle of a Friday night with probably only a handful of workers on duty – the plane could have flown on its own for probably like 2 hours or so.

The plane changed direction. After the transponder was turned off, the plane changed direction and instead of continuing North-East, it turned back West and flew past the Malaysian peninsula – following navigational points, which indicates that the person in control in the cockpit knew where they were flying, and knew exactly where they wanted to get. This is information now (7 days later) confirmed by the Malaysian Prime Minister, based on Malaysian military data. (This was once said back on the second or third day of the search, but was then denied the same day…) Even though they turned off the so called ACARS reporting system that sends data from the engines to Boeing and Rolls-Royce (the manufacturer of the turbines), this system continued to ping satellites – practically giving a life-signal, but no any additional data. But it says that the engines were running for at least 4 hours more, but some reports say that up to 7 hours more after the reporting was turned off…

Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER - on airliners.net by Konstantin von Wedelstaedt

The plane changed altitude. Drastically. Multiple times. This may sound like a small detail, but to me it indicates that the person in control in the cockpit knew what they were doing. Flying up to 45.000 feet (beyond the 777’s official maximum altitude) may have knocked out the passengers on board so that they were unconscious for at least a little time. (The pilot(s) in control may have taken the oxygen masks before going up so high.) Maybe then someone onboard took away their mobile phones and any other communication devices they could find in the pockets and elsewhere. Then the plane went much lower – to avoid some of the civil radars and continue it’s new flying course.

Then what happened? This is of course the biggest question. We need to look at the possible motivation/goal behind the hijacking to seek answers for this.

  • Pilot suicide – they would have taken the plane down after they took control, crashing into the South China Sea, leaving debris. No debris found, therefore can be ruled out.
  • Seeking global attention for a (political) cause – “typical” terrorist approach, but they would have contacted the government and global media with their reasons behind the hijacking. No media reported anything similar, therefore can be ruled out.
  • Seeking political asylum – hijack the plane, and land in a third, free country. It would only make sense for those with a fake passport on board – but as they had a working fake passport (they could get through security and onboard), it would make little sense to complicate matters this much. Plus, the country where they would have landed, would have already publicized the event and we would know about it. Ruled out.
  • Stealing the plane and selling it – given the so many identifiers and easy recognition of the plane itself, this is very unlikely that another airline would actually buy it…  Putting it on eBay would not be a solution, either. Can be ruled out in my opinion.
  • Stealing the plane for technological advances – this would only be useful for a handful of countries, like North Korea, Iran, Pakistan and some others in the region. Stealing a maintenance handbook could almost be as useful, unless you need some special material from onboard. Seems unlikely in my opinion, especially as North Korea is in the other direction (would have made more sense to hijack the plane much later in the flight in order to reduce risks), and Iran is simply too far away.
  • Seeking ransom for the plane and the passengers – this could be a valid motivation – but it requires the plane to be landed. Otherwise there is no plane and passengers they you can ask the money for. We would probably know about it by now – but could be that the negotiating government is keeping this information from the media.
  • Gaining control over someone onboard, or something in the cargo hold – this could be a valid motivation – but it also requires the plane to be landed. Otherwise there is no person or no cargo that you can unload the use later on. We will probably never learn if there was any classified cargo on board, such as special weapons, weapon materials or anything similar. The affected governments would never release such information publicly.

So the plane could have landed somewhere. We would probably know about it by now, there would be some witness who would tell the American or any other media for a little money if they had seen such a big plane – even simply flying low, not to mention landing on a remote airstrip. I believe we can rule this out, unless there is a big conspiracy behind this missing flight. (Like it landed on a small island airport, they stripped all communication devices, let the crew and passengers out, and flew it somewhere else under a different flight number and with a new transponder on board. Or they took it apart, or buried it in the ground, or put it in a hangar – but it’s a big plane. So the number of such big hangars, and runways able to support such a plane on such a small island is really only a handful.)

The plane could have crashed on its own. Running out of fuel would be a dumb mistake from someone who could turn off the transponder, though… Crashing after such a long flight on purpose would be a waste of time and lots of risk for a suicide crash. It could have crashed – in case the passengers had a “riot” on board against the hijackers and the onboard fight resulted in someone taking over the cockpit who had no idea how to fly the plane. The cockpit is complex enough, that in such a case, an amateur would not be able to turn on the radio, the transponder and seek help from the ground – let alone getting instructions on how to land the aircraft somewhere. In such a case, they may have run out of fuel actually.

And finally, The plane could have been shut down by military. Just look at the last two possible motivational ideas above. Either case, the government (sorry, but given it was a Malaysian aircraft, we must assume the Malaysian government here) may have shot down the airliner to reduce further risk and danger. They may have actually negotiated with the hijackers in the first hours or so, but getting no results and seeing the plane flying out of Malaysian Air Space, they went ahead and shot it down. If there was some precious, illegal cargo on board, it’s better to have it rest somewhere at the bottom of the Indian Ocean than having it land at a terrorist base… Now this scenario could be the reason behind why the Malaysian authorities were giving so contradicting information for days. They simply had no communication plan for such a situation. Or they had one, but the fact that most of the passengers on board (154 out of the 239 including crew) were Chinese, simply does not allow it to be confirmed. As it would lead to a very tricky political situation with the biggest (super)power in the region: China. And this is not something Malaysia (or any other country in the area for that matter) wants. (Alternatively, the military may not even have noticed the whole thing – as per the BBC.)

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK by leaving a comment for this article or voting here below.

So the facts what we knew are pointing to a hijacking scenario, with one of the more tragical ends. The plane is still missing. The plane can not be in the air anymore, so it must have either landed, or crashed, or shot down.

We may learn the faith of MH 370, or we may never get to know what really happened. It will soon transfer to a legal procedure between Malaysia Airlines and the aircraft insurer, the airline and the passengers’ relatives, the airline and the cargo owners, and maybe the airline and some media outlets about the contradicting information published during this last week.

We’ll keep an eye on the future news about this mysterious flight and suggest that you do as well.

by balint01

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First Boeing 787 for Air India

Air India took its first Boeing 787-800 Dreamliner earlier this year and joined the elite club of 787 operators as the fifth member back in early September. Air India’s turnaround plan is highly dependent on the efficient operation of the new type.

Air India's first Boeing 787-800 Dreamliner - photo by Boeing

Only the fifth airline to take delivery of a 787 (following launch customer All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines and LAN Airlines) Air India’s first delivery was delayed by over four months because of negotiations over the issue of program delay compensation. The Indian government is also arguing with Boeing about the weight guarantees promised by the aircraft manufacturer earlier – but those discussions are continuing separately.

Today is a great day for Air India as the most technologically advanced and fuel efficient airplane in the world joins our fleet,” said Rohit Nandan, Air India Chairman & Managing Director at the delivery ceremony. “The 787 will allow Air India to open new routes in a dynamic marketplace and provide the best in-flight experience for our passengers.

Air India has 27 Dreamliners on firm order, and one of the early deliveries has been assembled in Boeing’s new South Carolina plant – where the delivery ceremony took place as well. The airline took delivery of a second 787 just a week after the first one, also in South Carolina. They are taking deliveries of 4 more planes by the end of 2012 (have three in operation at the time of this article), seven in 2012, five in 2014, six in 2015 and three in 2016 to complete their planned fleet of the type.

Air India Boeing 787 Dreamliner Business Class - photo by Boeing

With 18 seats in Business (pictured above) and 238 in Economy class (pictured below) (256 in total), Air India is right in the middle of the other 787 operators in terms of seat density (JAL and LAN have less seats, while ANA and Ethiopian have more).

Air India Boeing 787 Dreamliner Economy Class - photo by Boeing

After the first month or so when the type was only used domestically, the first international destination of the Air India Boeing 787 has been Frankfurt, Germany.

by balint01

First Boeing 787 for LAN Airlines

LAN Airlines, member of the oneworld alliance and part of the LATAM Airline group (and one of my personal favorite airlines) took its first Boeing 787 Dreamliner at the end of August. It was a few months ago, but let’s take a closer look at this beautiful bird.

LAN Boeing 787 Dreamliner   - by Carlos P. Valle C. on airliners.net

The aircraft, powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines, was the first Dreamliner to be received by an airline in the Americas (and the fourth in the world after Japanese ANA and JAL, and Ethiopian Airlines). LAN has 32 787s on order, valued at USD 4.9 billion, to be delivered over the next decade. Two more are delivered this year.

The cabin features 247 seats altogether, with Business Class (30 fully-flat seats in a 2-2-2 layout) and Economy (217 total, in a 3-3-3 layout), making the 787 slightly less crowded than Ethiopian (24+245 = 269) and ANA (12+252 = 264) but more efficient than JAL (42+144 = 186). The numbers compared to the other operators of the type look like a fair compromise expecting a fairly good business audience, that offer specious comfort as well as economy of scale at the same time.

LAN said it expects to start Los Angeles-Lima 787 flights in January 2013. LAN CEO Ignacio Cueto said in a statement, “The Dreamliner will make it possible for us to cover greater distances in a more environmentally conscious and highly efficient aircraft.” As per the latest route announcements, it looks like LAN is planning to operate sort of a circle flight with Santiago-Los Angeles, Los Angeles-Lima, Lima-Santiago – enabling three routes with the aircraft type on paper – while in reality each city-pair would only be services one-way by the 787.

Other cities expected to be served by LAN 787s over the next year besides the hub of Santiago are Buenos Aires, Madrid and Frankfurt, the carrier said.

LAN Boeing 787 - c by Russell Hill on airliners.net

I have flown LAN all around South-America and to the Easter Island (twice), but now I’m looking forward to my next LAN flight, which I will aim to make on one of their 787’s.

by balint01

The Hobbit Flies With Air New Zealand (An Unexpected Briefing)

Air New Zealand has “always” been the official “Airline of Middle-earth”, and this is no different in case of the release of the latest Tolkien Movie, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”. But this time they have created a great short movie – which is actually useful for those passengers embarking on an expected journey aboard one of their planes as it prepares them for the unexpected safety situations.

First let’s take a look at their latest special livery aircraft (registration number: ZK-OKP), a Boeing 777-300ER, painted to promote the movie itself (see more images on airliners.net):

Air New Zealand Boeing 777-300ER in special "The Hobbit" livery  - by James Mepsted on airliners.net

And then the funny Onboard Safety Demonstration Video with the very well known Lord of the Rings Characters:

I haven’t seen the movie yet, (will surely do) – but I don’t expect any “goofs” hidden with the random appearance of an Air New Zealand plane…

by balint01

First Boeing 787 for Ethiopian Airlines

Ethiopian Airlines is the first non-Japanese carrier to receive the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and demonstrate its forward looking strategy – even as an African airline. As the third overall operator of the new Dreamliner aircraft type (and the second Star Alliance member), Ethiopian flew the plane from the delivery ceremony from Boeing’s Everett facility to Washington Dulles airport at the US capital – even before flying it home to Africa two days later on 17 August.

The first destination is very well understandable in the light of the news that the Addis Ababa – Washington route will be the airlines’ first route served by the 787 – starting mid-September when they receive the second of the type. According to plans, Ethiopian will take 4 more before the end of 2012. The first one is the 49th aircraft in its fleet, and the Plane was dubbed as “Africa First”. Ethiopian has 10 of the type on order. The carrier also announced that its next desired route will be connecting Addis Ababa to Guangzhou, China, but it’s not yet decided when that service will get the Boeing 787. By the way, one day after the delivery flight from the US, the plane made its maiden flight in Africa with a Dream Tour to Mount Kilimanjaro with VIP passengers on board. The Dream Tour was a start of rotating Africa destinations, and some scheduled flights into Europe (Rome, London, Frankfurt) and India (Mumbai).

The plane in Ethiopian livery features 24 business class seats (called “Cloud Nine”) and 245 seats in Economy. Besides all the seats, this Dreamliner will bring the same customer benefits as the ones already in operation: lower noise levels, higher humidity, the largest windows on a passenger plane, bigger overhead bins and a unique lighting system – the Sky Interior that can be adjusted to the environment and time of the day.

In remarks at the delivery ceremony, Ethiopian CEO Tewolde Gebremariam noted the 787’s delivery was “overdue by four years” due to multiple program delays. But he said it was “worth waiting” for an aircraft that will launch a “new era” for ET and African aviation. “This shows you how much Ethiopia as a country, and Africa as a continent, is changing,” he said.

Tewolde also said that Ethiopian plans to grow its aircraft fleet to more than 120 units (passenger and cargo fleet combined) and its workforce (now numbering around 7,000) to 17,000 by 2025 and aims to become the leading airline on the African continent and eventually compete against any of the world’s top carriers for passengers and cargo. This would equal to generating $10 billion in annual revenue by 2025 (ET reported revenue of $1.5 billion in 2011). According to the CEO talking to ATW, Addis Ababa is located right in the middle of the line between the world’s most emerging markets – notably between Russia, India, China and Brazil – and would strategically be located to connect these areas both in terms of passengers as well as cargo. The Boeing 787 can reach all of these countries within a 10 hour radius with nonstop flights.

We will keep an eye on Ethiopian and see how this aggressive, optimistic strategy will become a reality. A very important step has just been made by adding the Boeing 787 to the fleet – as the third airline to ever operate the type after All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines.

by balint01

First Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental for Lufthansa

Lufthansa has conducted the first scheduled flight from Frankfurt, Germany to Washington, DC, USA with the brand new Boeing 747-8Intercontinental, which is the latest, and most advanced version of the classic Boeing 747. Lufthansa is the launch customer of the type.

The plane was delivered to Lufthansa (LH) on May 1 (about 2 years later than originally planned)  and has been used for training for a month at its home base in Frankfurt, before her maiden revenue flight on June 1, 2012. Flight LH416 — the first Boeing 747-8I passenger service — passed through the traditional water salute at Frankfurt in the morning and landed at 12:45 local time, 10 min. ahead of schedule. Flying time was 7 hr. 57 min.

The (so far) longest version of the classic Boeing 747 JumboJet has 362 seats in three cabins: 8 seats in First-class, 92 seats in Business-class and 262 in Economy. With this size, it fills the gap between the Airbus A340-600’s and the A380. Even the size (and most of the plane) was designed by Boeing, based on requirements by Lufthansa, making the German carrier a real launch customer of the new -8Intercontinental. Actually Lufthansa was the one originally raising the idea of this type to Boeing, who agreed to make the plane a bit longer, and implement many of the new technologies developed for the 787 Dreamliner program – including state-of-the-art wings with much improved aerodynamics and raked wingtips, some composite materials, fly-by-wire technology and next generation engines.

The fourth-generation 747 is powered by GE Aviation’s GEnx-2B engines, which will bring double-digit improvements in fuel burn and emissions over its predecessor, the 747-400, while generating 30% less noise (should be noticeable even on board). It should burn 10-15% less fuel than the last 747 version, the -400, which puts it right next to the Airbus A380 in terms of seat-mile-cost. This first plane is within the limits but has not yet reached planned targets in terms of performance requirements, said Deutsch Lufthansa AG Executive Board member Carsten Spohr, as quoted by ATW News. “This first new aircraft (of a new type) is never the best one,” Spohr told ATW. He said the weight of the aircraft is too high, resulting in more fuel burn. Also, he said, the General Electric GEnx-2B engines have to improve. Lufthansa hopes these issues will be resolved by the delivery of the tenth/eleventh plane of the type next year.

It is such an honor to join Lufthansa in welcoming the 747-8 Intercontinental into service,” said Elizabeth Lund, Boeing vice president and general manager, 747 Program. “Lufthansa has provided great inspiration and leadership in helping us design a new Queen of the Skies for the 21st Century, an airplane that Lufthansa will love for its efficiency and reliability, airport neighbors will love for its quiet operations and low emissions, and passengers will love for its beautiful new interior and extra space.

The German flag-carrier has 20 747-8Is on order plus 20 options as part of its biggest-ever fleet modernization program. The aircraft will be delivered at a rate of five aircraft per year through mid-2015. After the Washington route, other destination cities to follow include Chicago O’Hare, Los Angeles, New Delhi and Bangalore.

Korean Air and Air China are the next customers to receive their first 747-8I type airplanes next year, while Lufthansa will take delivery of four more aircraft this year (the second one within a month).

________________

More about the 747-8I overview, details, development process and the new aircraft in general is available in the Lufthansa Magazine Special Issue on the web or for your iPad in iTunes (highly recommended!) (free app, with a selection of free issues of the Lufthansa Magazine, You should look to download the special Boeing 747-8 edition)

by balint01

Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Japan Airlines

Oneworld member Japan Airlines (JAL) took delivery of its first two Boeing 787 Dreamliners at the end of March, and have added the new plane type quickly into its operating fleet. JAL is the second Japanese operator of the type after ANA started flying their first Dreamliner late in October, 2011 – more than three years after the original delivery date – but the first to use General Electric GEnx-powered aircraft.

The two brand new Boeing 787s (registration numbers: JA825J and JA822J) were delivered to JAL on March 25 and touched down at Tokyo Narita and Haneda airports respectively on the 27th of March. Following one month of familiarization, training and marketing flights, the first revenue round-trip flight was completed to Boston Logan airport in the United States on April 22nd. This is the first ever non-stop flight to connect Boston with Asia, and marked the debut of the 787 in the USA. The second scheduled destination is Delhi, with flights starting on the 1st of May.

The 787 is scheduled to be deployed on routes between Tokyo and Beijing (May 7, Haneda), Moscow (May 7), Singapore (September) and Helsinki (March 2013) as soon as subsequent aircraft are delivered and all necessary preparations are completed. JAL will later this year (in December), also use this super-efficient aircraft to start yet another first nonstop service between a US city and Asia with the launch of direct flights between Tokyo (Narita) and San Diego.

JAL’s 787 Dreamliner is configured in two classes with 42 seats in business and 144 seats in economy (186 altogether). The Executive Class has a 2-2-2 configuration so that customers are either seated by the window or along the aisle. The 144 Economy Class seats have 2 cm (0.8 inches) wider space than current seats and is arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration.

Some highlights of the revolutionary aircraft include larger windows with electronically dimmable shades, as well as higher ceilings, lower cabin pressure and better humidity for a noticeably more comfortable in-flight experience. JAL’s hospitality is reflected in customer-contact points throughout the cabin and even in the work space for cabin attendants such as the kitchen equipment in the galley. Utilizing the LED lights in the Dreamliner, JAL created an original cabin lighting design to enhance the ambience onboard with a sense of the four seasons in Japan, such as pink hues of cherry blossoms in spring, or sky blue in the summer months of July and August. The lighting also adapts at various timings during the flight, to make the environment more conducive during meal service and for resting or waking up. A brand new type of in-flight entertainment is also introduced onboard JAL’s 787 Dreamliner, called SKY MANGA which reflects a distinctive part of the Japanese culture. There will be more than 30 titles of Japanese comics available in electronic versions on JAL’s in-flight entertainment system initially, with expansion to English versions planned for the near future.

JAL has firm orders for 25 787-8s, including the two delivered Monday, and 20 Boeing 787-9s plus 20 787 options, meaning if all are exercised, the Japanese carrier will be operating 65 Dreamliners (currently it has 209 aircraft altogether).

by balint01


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