Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Did MAS followed FAA directive on February 23 for MH370?

The US airline safety regulator warned last year of cracking in the fuselage skin underneath a Boeing 777’s satellite antenna, issuing a worldwide alert for the flaw to be fixed as it could lead to decompression that would leave occupants unconscious.
The problem identified by the US Federal Aviation Administration provides a possible explanation as to why a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane mysteriously went missing en route to Beijing on Saturday.
B777 antenna locations: the cracks were reported under the stacom antenna on top of the aircraft.
B777 antenna locations: the cracks were reported under the stacom antenna on top of the aircraft.
A structural failure related to the flaw could not only have led to a slow decompression that left the 239 passengers and crew on the missing flight unconscious, it would also have disabled satellite communications, including the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), which transmits data of the plane’s location automatically.
It would also have rendered the plane invisible to all but 'primary radar', which has a range of only 100 nautical miles.
Malaysia authorities are now saying the missing Malaysia Airlines plane flew for one hour and 10 minutes after Malaysian aviation authorities saw it vanish from radar over the South China Sea and potentially travel off course.
The components of the satcom system shown in a Boeing training manual.
The components of the satcom system shown in a Boeing training manual.
According to a posting on the Professional Pilots Rumour Network, the end of satellite communications would not have disabled the mobile phone network on the plane, which runs off a different communications system.
Nineteen families signed a statement saying they were able to telephone the mobile phones on the plane. While they got a dial tone, no one picked up.
The posting theorises that a structural failure fitted with much of the information know so far about the disaster of Flight MH370.
The search continues for the missing plane.
The search continues for the missing plane. Photo: AP
‘‘A slow decompression (e.g. from a golfball-sized hole) would have gradually impaired and confused the pilots before cabin altitude (pressure) warnings sounded,’’ it said.
‘‘If the decompression was slow enough, it’s possible the pilots did not realize to put on oxygen masks until it was too late. [It] also explains why another pilot thirty minutes ahead heard “mumbling” from MH370 pilots. (VHF comms would be unaffected by SATCOM equipment failure.).’’
The theory of how the incident may have unfolded is speculative, but the directive from the US Federal Aviation Administration is fact.
A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER.
A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER. Photo: AP
The 777-200 ER, the model operating flight MH370 was not specifically identified in the directive.  
An inspection of a 14 year old Boeing 777 owned by an unnamed airline uncovered a 16-inch crack, the FAA found.
‘‘We propose to adopt a new airworthiness directive (AD) for certain The Boeing Company Model 777 airplanes. This proposed AD was prompted by a report of cracking in the fuselage skin underneath the satellite Communication (SATCOM) antenna adaptor.
‘‘This proposed AD would require repetitive inspections of the visible fuselage skin and doubler if installed, for cracking, corrosion, and any indication of contact of a certain fastener to a bonding jumper, and repair if necessary. We are proposing this AD to detect and correct cracking and corrosion in the fuselage skin, which could lead to rapid decompression and loss of structural integrity of the airplane.’’
The FAA directive called for additional checks to be incorporated into the routine maintenance schedule of the worldwide 777 Boeing fleet.
The flaw was first identified on June 12, 2013. Comment was sought from airlines and the manufacturer by November but the final airworthiness directive was not issued by the FAA until February 18.
According to a Malaysia Airlines spokesman, the missing aircraft was serviced on February 23, with further maintenance scheduled for June 19.
Whether the directive was picked up by the airline remains unknown.
A Boeing spokeswoman told Fairfax Media it was up to individual airlines to follow the directive, not the manufacturer.
Despite both the Boeing 777 and Malaysia Airlines having good safety records, there have been other incidents which could prove relevant during the investigation of the disappearance.
In 2005, a 777 operated by Malaysia Airlines suffered problems with its autopilot system on a flight between Perth and Kuala Lumpur.
It led to the plane pitching up into a sudden 3000-foot climb, almost causing the plane to stall.
The problem led to another airworthiness directive to correct a computer fault that had been found on 500 Boeing 777s.
Airworthiness directives are commonplace, similar to car recalls.
In the majority of cases, airlines are told to look for and correct the fault, if found, during maintenance.
While investigators from Malaysia and the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington search for the plane's black box, they will also be able to glean vital information from a live-data stream broadcast during the flight.
Known as Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, it is the equivalent of an "online black box".
However James Healy-Pratt, an aviation lawyer who has represented bereaved families in other air accidents, warned they face a long wait before the original black boxes are recovered.
A Boeing spokesman said it was working with the NTSB as a technical adviser.
"The team is now in position in the region to offer whatever assistance is required."
The company declined to comment further.
- with the Telegraph, London

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