The huge international search effort for missing Malaysia Air Flight 370 that disappeared March 8 with its 239 passengers and crew might have been much shorter or even unnecessary except for human decisions that deprived the aircraft of better location equipment and misdirected searchers once it was lost.
Whatever the eventual story on why the aircraft disappeared, the international aviation community needs to learn these lessons and take steps to prevent a recurrence.
The largest error was a decision by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency, to reject a 2012 recommendation from French aviation authorities that all international passenger planes should be required to have equipment that would regularly broadcast the aircraft's position, altitude, speed and direction.
According to The Financial Times of London, the recommendation, which grew out of a French investigation into the two-year search for the remains of Air France Flight 447, was turned down because regulators thought it would add to the costs of air travel and because they considered the Flight 447 incident an isolated case.
Air France Flight 447 disappeared over the South Atlantic on June 1, 2009, with 229 people aboard, en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. Its black boxes, which eventually disclosed the cause of the crash, were not found until May 2011.
Malaysian authorities also erred by passing up the opportunity to add optional Global Positioning System technology when they purchased the Boeing airliner, an investment that cost them over $200 million.
According to some press reports, if the GPS system had been active, the "pings" automatically sent to satellites after someone aboard shut down the aircraft's normal communications system and transponder would have provided exact location information. In the absence of such information the initial search area ranged in a wide arc from the Asian mainland to the Indian Ocean.
Only on Monday, more than two weeks after Flight 370 disappeared, did further analysis of satellite data lead to a conclusion "beyond any reasonable doubt" that the aircraft had come down in the south Indian Ocean.
The Chinese government and knowledgeable U.S. experts have been strongly critical of the way Malaysian authorities have handled information available to them that could have shortened the time required to concentrate search resources on the Indian Ocean area where debris has been spotted.
Even with the clues of floating debris spotted by at least three different satellite systems in the southern Indian Ocean, the search for Flight 370 could still be a long way from over. Wreckage from Flight 447 was discovered within a day of its loss in 2009.
But it still took 23 months to find the actual aircraft in deep water and recover its black box recorders.
That tragedy should have alerted the international aviation community to the difficulties of finding an aircraft lost at sea.
Unfortunately, those lessons were not learned in time to prevent the disappearance of Flight 370.
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