November 23, 2014
By: John E. Fiorentino
Emirates Airlines CEO Sir Tim Clark has been in the news lately giving his opinions regarding the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370. Unfortunately, much of what Clark says has no basis in fact. Clark makes utterances and assertions borne by an ignorance of the facts in the case. More surprisingly, many of Clark's statements demonstrate a poor understanding of his own airline and aviation in general.
Recently, in an interview with aviation journalist Andreas Spaeth and published on the Sydney Morning Herald, Clark fumbled and bumbled his way through a labyrinth of absurd speculation and inaccuracies. In one instance Clark said: “All secondary and primary radar should be the same.” Clark here is referring to the fact that MH370's transponders were switched off relatively early in the flight which effectively caused the aircraft to disappear from Air Traffic Control (ATC) secondary radar. The plane continued (apparently) to be tracked by military primary radar. When an aircraft's transponder is working correctly it transmits information to the ATC which aids in tracking and establishing traffic patterns. This data from the transponders includes altitude information. Primary radar is essentially unable to provide altitude readings, except under certain very specific instances which we won't discuss here. Clark's statement that all radar “should be the same” is frightening in a sense, that an airline CEO would even utter such silliness. Clark has also had trouble understanding why pilots should even be allowed to turn off their transponders. Many airports have surface radar equipment which gives controllers the exact position of aircraft on the ground. Pilots will turn off their transponders under these circumstances to avoid confusion and unnecessary clutter on ATC radar screens.
Clark also seems to know very little about (ACARS) short for the planes Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System ACARS was also disabled on flight MH370. The Emirates CEO for his part believes this disabling of ACARS “is no simple thing and Emirates pilots are not trained to disable ACARS.” He also believes that to “completely disable” the system would require entry into the avionics bay (E/E Bay for short). (An area below the cabin floor and behind the cockpit). Unfortunately, this idea is also erroneous, as ACARS can be disabled easily from inside the cockpit. So, no one in fact needed to enter the E/E Bay to disable ACARS and in spite of Clark's ramblings, there is no evidence that anyone did.
At times Clark became a little hard to understand. For instance in commenting on the radar and the transponders, Clark said: “This is absolute stuff of nonsense. Radar is radar. It will pick up metal objects flying at the speed of the size (sic) of a 777 without any difficulty. Who took the decision to say: 'If a transponder is off, we can't track it in a secondary radar regime'? Which apparently most air traffic control systems are in. We must look at that as well. This aircraft in my opinion was under control, probably until the very end.”*
The Emirates chief also questioned the “handshake” which places MH370 in the Southern Indian Ocean (SIO) claiming the signal was “very weak.” He also indicated that there are “a multitude of other aircraft in the same area.” Apparently Clark was intimating that perhaps MH370 was somehow confused with another plane. All of this however just serves to underscore Clark's very weak grasp of the facts.
In fairness, not all of Clark's remarks were less than competent. For instance Clark called for more transparency in the current investigation. That's something the Malaysians may want to consider. In the final analysis however, Clark's less than adequate understanding of the facts surrounding the disappearance of MH370 only adds fuel to the fires of conspiracy and more angst to the families and friends of the victims of the MH370 mystery.
Copyright 2014 – J. E. Fiorentino – All Rights Reserved
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