What Malaysia Air Saga is Teaching Us About How We Communicate – or Don't

malaysia_airline_flight_370Incredibly and excruciatingly painful for the families of passengers on Malaysia Airlines flight 370, another week has passed since the disappearance of the jumbo jet with virtually no new revelations nor clues as to its fate.  This mystery is, however, demonstrating how various factions involved in the event are communicating with each other, or, sadly and amazingly, how they are not doing so effectively, if at all.

Let’s consider first how limited and antiquated today’s technology is being revealed to be with regard to how air communications systems work.  Transponders can easily and manually be shut down rendering an airliner virtually invisible, save military radar.  Cockpit voice data recorders run on only a 2-hour loop; meaning in cases where a flight may continue for hours after an initial event of some type, the exact cause of the catastrophe can be erased.  Moreover, news coverage and aviation expert commentators have informed us, the black box ‘pings’ which begin transmitting after a catastrophic accident, only last for 30 days with a range of just a few miles.

We are also experiencing first hand that, rather than living in a “small world”, the countries of this earth are still light years apart when it comes to communication and cooperation.  37 countries are reportedly working together, including on search and rescue operations and covert investigation – this in a world of 196 countries. And while many nations may be fearful of showing their hands with regard to their satellite and surveillance capabilities, others appear to be playing games. Vietnam, for example, took 10 days to inform officials that they had picked up the flight on their radar at a crucial moment in the event timeline. When asked why they had waited so long to report the information, country officials replied: “No one asked.”

And, both Malaysia Air and the Malaysian government are demonstrating that they are ill-equipped to release news and information in an effective manner.  Over and over we see distraught family members, stuck in Beijing, yelling, screaming, fighting, fainting. This tells us that they are not being regularly nor adequately updated on search developments as a group nor one-on-one.  Family member privacy, further, should also be better protected and respected, limiting media access to these individuals who are in such agonizing turmoil.

Through it all, it is evident that aviation technology upgrades must be made, inter-country cooperation enhanced and overall communications efforts improved for the future.  It is unfortunate that positive change sometimes only comes after tragedy. One would hope that lessons are being learned and will translate into expedient advances.  An event such as this simply cannot happen again.