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  • 29 March 2014, 10:41

Missing Jet: Learning Lessons From Tragedy

The small consolation that should come with every airline crash is that the knowledge gained from the tragedy should help prevent it happening again.

But if that were true, we might already know more about what happened to flight MH370.

After the Air France accident of 2009, in which 228 people died when their flight from Brazil plunged into the Atlantic, 120 representatives of the international aviation industry got together to recommend ways to make it easier to find aircraft which crash into the sea.

None has been implemented.

They suggested that the flight data recorders - the black boxes - should have larger batteries so they would carry on transmitting a beacon for 90 rather than 30 days.

But bigger batteries mean extra weight and extra cost for the airlines to install them.

They also suggested the recorders should be designed to break away and float to the surface, rather than sink to the sea floor along with the rest of the fuselage.

And that the frequency of the transmission should be altered to boost how far away it can be heard, beyond its current 2,000 metre maximum.

Salvage expert David Mearns, from Blue Water Recoveries, told Sky News: "If you reduce that frequency, the lower the frequency, the greater the range.

"You go from 37.5khz , to say, 8.8khz as recommended, I think that would increase the range to over 10,000 metres.

"So that's a five times increase in your detectable range and that would help the teams out there now looking for these black boxes."

As for why the recommendations weren't acted upon?

"It's a very big industry. It's an international industry," said Mr Mears.

"It takes a lot of time for these things to work themselves through the regulations; how they would operate, how the pilots would be trained to use them; they have to be implemented on the aircraft, so it takes years for these things to be done."

In an age when we can all track most passenger aircraft on our smartphones and computers, how can a plane still go missing?

Most, but not all, areas of the world are now covered by the Acars ADS-B system, allowing them to be constantly tracked. Although smaller, older aircraft are not equipped.

There are new regulations being introduced around the world compelling airlines to fit them in all passenger aircraft.

But in some places the deadline is 2020.

Mikael Robertsson, the founder of Flightradar24.com, told Sky: "Maybe authorities in these countries don't want to rush or I guess it costs quite a lot of money for airlines to upgrade their equipment on board."

In any case, it appears the system on MH370 was switched off.

One current 777 pilot told Sky he could not think of a good reason why he would do such a thing.

And with so many flights criss-crossing vast expanses of water, knowing the plane's last position is crucial to a swift recovery.

Mr Robertsson said: "I think this is something that should be discussed: How much pilots should be able to turn off, and how easy it should be to turn some systems off?"

The backgrounds of the pilots have been scrutinised to assess the likelihood of criminal or suicidal behaviour.

Professor Robert Bor is a clinical psychologist who has studied those who fly, and was specifically asked to review an incident involving an American Jet Blue pilot who had a psychotic episode while flying from New York to Las Vegas.

Captain Clayton Osbon left the cockpit and screamed at passengers before being subdued by some of those on board.

His co-pilot landed the plane safely in Texas.

ProfBor and others concluded there were no warning signs beforehand which could have prevented the incident.

"Every year an airline pilot will have at least two formal medical checks which address not just their physical health but their mental health. Every time they are doing the job they are scrutinised by people."

Pilot suicide is not unheard of, and is considered the most likely explanation for the crash of an Indonesian SilkAir flight in 1997.

The pilot was heavily in debt - 104 passengers and crew were killed.

Airlines may also be studying how Malaysia Airlines has handled the disaster from a public relations perspective.

The families of the passengers have gone from grieving to protesting, angry at being kept waiting for news, furious about misinformation, and the final indignity - some of them were told the plane had crashed by text message.

Crisis management expert Raine Marcus told Sky News: "The communications with the families didn't inspire trust from the beginning.

"If you don't build up trust and goodwill right from the beginning, that has a direct impact afterwards on communications with the families and also directly on your business."

In the months and years ahead, as details emerge of what happened to MH370, there will undoubtedly be calls for lessons to be learned.

And in the meantime millions of us will continue to fly, hoping that our flight will not be one of the very rare ones, which does not have a safe landing.

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