The events and issues surrounding the loss of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has created a suite of scary and sinister concerns for international travel, mobility, security and risk managers as a result. Many do not yet understand the full implications this event will have on the world. The issues range from technology deficiencies, crisis management, capable threat sources, news reporting to aviation security and management. Also a few new issues we examine here that will also impact the future of travellers and managers alike. For those charged with the preparation and management of people and assets affected, this will assist you in your analysis and future planning.
Many more people are now looking at all the associated issues now, some for the first time. What the world now knows about a number of related issues they once took for granted or simply did not have the interest in, now concerns them immensely. Rightly so!
Technology Deficiencies: Airplanes Vs Smartphones
If aeroplanes were cars, most people wouldn’t’ buy them. An alarming number of aircraft are 10, 20, 30 years or more old that are still servicing commercial and domestic routes. The technology available on most aircraft is much more dated than last year’s smartphone technology, including emergency communications and monitoring systems. Not to mention the lack of international integration for those that have better, more capable technology solutions.
There is a common misperception that aviation technology is evolving at similar rate to commercial technology as seen in computers, phones, cars, and so on. When in fact, this just isn’t the case at all. It is not just the aircraft that is dated but also the supporting systems such as radar, communications, reporting and access to databases as well. While the assumption is that it all works just fine, when there are no incidents or scandals, it is often not a topic of discussion or concern until one or more incidents occur and many more become aware of what industry insiders have been aware of and lobbying to change for some time.
Coincidence and Causation: Lag indicators are not future assurances
2012 and 2013 were celebrated as two of the safest years in aviation history. The problem with this fact is that the end result isn’t qualified nor specified as the result of deliberate actions that created the outcome or if it was just a series of random coincidences the peaked during these times. There are more airlines, more flights, more destinations, more pilots, and more travellers each and every year, which is placing significant burden on all the associated elements in different ways, at different times with vastly different consequences. The reality is, despite recorded incidents and data, aviation health,safety, security and risk management is not 100% controlled and incidents and events will and do happen, with often catastrophic results.
Airspace Management: World access and 100% monitored?
They average layman is under the impression there are super computers tracking every air movement across the globe and all centrally accessible, verifiable and accurate at any moment in time. They saw it on their iPhone app or desktop computer through a website so it must be the same for both commercial and military air traffic control too, right?
A growing number of reports and observations have revealed that take off and landing are really the only closely monitored and interactive stages of domestic and international air movements. Some locations still have bulletin boards to alert pilots and providers of changes to the airspace on given days or locations and civil and military systems do not interact or focus upon or even see the same data. What happens and what is monitored in the hours between take off and landing, is not that consistent nor is it universal the world over.
We had noted and commented in an earlier article on Australia’s airspace interoperatbility shortly before the official news converage also.
The fact remains, people or an incident was able to make a large, modern aircraft with over 200 souls aboard disappear without a trace while the entire world watched on, despite all the current technology and monitoring available to civil and military agencies.
Who’s watching?: NSA and other global overwatch perceptions
Many have become agitated and appalled by the Snowden revelations around civil and social monitoring programs. Everyone therefore believes that everything is monitored at all times and acted upon. This is not true nor realistic either. If that true, all storms would be reported to the affected before they struck, murder victims warned of the impending threat and all accidents such as aircraft crashes would be captured, reported and responded to before the aircraft actually crashed.
Despite what most people and even informed professional believed, many presumably important activities such as aviation movements are not monitored in real time, at all times and reported or acted upon in the event of the slightest variation. Even finding data or related information after the fact can be difficult or impossible. Not to mention that even if there were data on certain events, the data, source and means of collection would never be made public in the interest of protecting secrets.
Despite apps and desktop/online portals for getting access to airline schedules, tracking flights, aviation statistics and even in-flight radio transmissions, the volume of data, channels and activity in a single minute of any day, 24/7 is a staggering number and a long, long way off before there is anything close to achieving real time, universal monitoring and access of such activities. The bad guys know this too.
Warning Signs: Related, studied, rehearsed or coincidence?
Within the first couple of months of 2014 there were already a couple of key events, involving aviation safety and security that are related to Malaysia Airlines MH370.
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 702 was significant not because it involved the alleged hijacking of an aircraft heading to the EU and a major capital city but because the story was not released by professional or government agencies and it involved one of the crew as the alleged hijacker. Online enthusiasts, rank amateurs and other crowdsourced intelligence where responsible for the identification, reporting and tracking of the incident which in turn fed the international news community. If not for this happenstance and skilled online community coming together at that particular time and seeing the incident through until conclusion, it would have just been a single line news updates online or during the evening news. Disenfranchised crew members also took many buy surprise as a potential source for misappropriate use of an aircraft.
Recently, Etihad flight EY 461 had a concerning chain of events that went unchecked and lacked adequate risk controls and oversight, placing commercial interests above more practical risk management principals for both providers and travellers. We noted several oversights and improvements in an article we wrote on the subject recently.
Crisis Management: Planned and learned skill, not part of your promotion entitlement
Governments, national carriers, military leaders and many more have collectively and very publicly been put on show as a result of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 with many displaying an alarming level of unpreparedness, lack of coordination and cultural restrictions that have not faired well with the international news and affected audience.
Catastrophic failures, accidents and random events are not always blamed upon those left to communicate and coordinate the response but when their actions are inadequate, inconsistent, suspicious, uncoordinated or just plain random everyone starts to question their involvement in the tragedy and become less and less accommodating and increasingly hostile towards those who’s job titles demand they act on behalf of the victims and best interests of all involved. It has become painfully obvious to the world’s spectators and those tragically affected by the event that most where neither prepared for such an event nor are they effective in engaging, communicating and coordinating an event that was not scripted in advance.
Global News and Reporting: Random and misleading
The quality, accuracy and every changing focus of the news and media interest around the event has been incredible to say the least. Not because of the lack of details but the random frenetic change in focus, theory and data used to create and release stories. A perfect example has been a story titled ‘Malaysia Airlines Fligth 370: Runways in Range”which is neither accurate nor related to the event in any effective way. A random selection of runways, in unverified condition, never had a large commercial aircraft land upon it, has no instrument approach capability, at night, with no control tower nor on-ground emergency support resources does not qualify as an option for an aircraft in duress at the time and circumstances of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. This has been representative of the hourly conspiracy theories and random topics released by an industry that they themselves have seen diminish in reach and capability in recent years, part of the reason the aforementioned group of amateurs providing critical information for the world’s news services during the Ethiopian Airlines suspected hijacking. overwatch desktop background
Airport Security: Hated and loathed by many
Despite continued loss of interest, tolerance and funding for airport security since the 9/11 catalyst it has seen a resurgence as a result of the incident. Most airport security is ineffective against intelligent, coordinated and capable threat groups with more of the focus and application upon random, individual acts and highly reactive to yesterday’s threat: which is part of the reason it frustrates so many. There is also little international consistency between the application and implementation of aviation security which in turn encourages the seeking out and exploitation of vulnerable, accessible channels by more capable, international threat groups.
The retrospective admissions and revelations that this one flight had so many airport security anomalies will drive change, innovation and frustration for travellers as a result.
Passports: A growing illegal market and utility
In much the same way technology has been a very slow improvement in the commercial aviation space, so too have passports and passport control. Paper books used for international travel in a world where money and currency interactions, along with electronic identification and verification takes place in a matter of seconds seem almost laughable but a reality for some time to come as not all countries and users have the resources or technology for anything more advanced. This means they can be fraudulently used too.
International agencies such as Interpol have for many years tried to raise awareness in the gaps and threats posed by stolen passports in particular. Coupled with the ever growing attempts to collect valid passports by illegal and false means, results in a significant number of international travellers or opportunities to move among the commercial travelling population. The chance of detection is also reduced when screening measures are not complied with or there are routine and regular lapses in verification systems. Those that use or exploit these vulnerabilities range from the frightened fleeing to the deadly en route.
Successful Plans and Ideas: A catalyst for next generation threats
A better prize always attracts a better quality and prepared competitor. So too does the world of criminal, violent or terror based threats. Training and tactics have always been shared by these individuals and groups thanks to cultural ties, technology and even institutions where you end up with a concentration of like minded collaborators. But when any one or more of these groups are successful and their planning and tactics are then made public, a whole host of capable and prospective threats are free to pursue similar plans. We have seen this over the past decade, from the 9/11, Pakistan, Mumbai and Algeria type terrorism attacks that have taken place with each group learning and improving upon the last.
Direct Impact and Likely Outcomes of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370
Aviation technology will face renewed pressure for modernisation and upgrades. This will put economic burden on an already pressured industry and will likely drive some providers or services out of select markets as a result. Governments will also be pressured to regulate and spend in this area too but inconsistent international results will not close the gap or solve the problem in the next decade. This gap will remain a key vulnerability for competent and persistent threat groups.
Aviation standards and risk metrics will be reviewed in light of the complete disappearance of an aircraft and the world’s inability to locate it within a timely manner. Some standards will be too onerous for some providers or markets, further increasing the gap between developed and emerging economies. No evidence of defect will no longer be considered as evidence of no defects by regulators and consumers. Buyers and consumers will change their spending habits for what they see or feel as better indicators for safety, security and risk management.
Airspace management changes are needed. Ageing infrastructure, public/private expenditure will be demanded but with no direct cost recovery means for most. Incidents, whether deliberate or accidental will continue to occur as with flight MH370 until effective change is implemented in this space. Transparency and admissions are likely to precede real change with traditional practices challenged.
Self help monitoring and awareness has already started. Buyers and consumers are now more suspicious and actively seeking ways they can monitor or self help in the event of routine or emergency failures. There is little collective trust or faith in the industry, evident in the individual applications and online portals that are already being utilised or referenced as a means of consumer transparency in the wake of perceived or government shortfalls or reluctancy to share. A cottage industry will accelerate in appealing to consumers and providing access to ‘behind the scenes’ data and information.
New trends and tactics for the future threat groups will include one or more areas of exploitation now publicly divulged in the Malaysia flight MH370 incident. Inspiration and focus will lead to high end, international, coordinated state/non-state actors considering this now as a viable option for their cause or campaigns.
Crisis management failures will result in institutional lack of faith in Malaysia’s governance, regulatory bodies and national carrier. While individual failures will result in termination or replacement, enterprise damage and set backs will have significant economic and confidence impact upon all those associated or held responsible for the poor management and response to the event. Malaysian citizens will be influenced in elections and support of public officials that have demonstrated long term association to a system that enabled the failure of processes and progress.
News capture and reporting will be less credible and become a secondary, unverified source in related incidents. Social journalism and data sourcing or verification by communities and skilled specialists will be promoted and utilised over conventional, mainstream mass media channels. Short, updatable content in various forms will for the bulk of informing and educating lay people on technical and related issues during high priority or emergency communication events.