Archive for 2014

Enhanced tracking equipment the key to pinpointing crash sites

It is almost 2015 and large, complex and very well designed jet aircraft are still being lost. Seven airline aircraft have crashed in 2014, in different countries, including the very well-known MH370, MH17 and now we know that Air Asia QZ8501 has crashed in the ocean on a short 2 hour flight from Surabaya to Singapore. This latest tragedy would not have been prevented by enhanced tracking of the aircraft but it should certainly have shortened the time taken to find the wreckage.

It appears on initial assessment, that the A320 of Air Asia has impacted the water and considerable speed, or possibly broken up in mid-air. The debris field will now be examined, and as much of the debris and all possible bodies will be recovered and taken to shore for examination and proper, respectful, burial.

However, the investigation is only just beginning and the recovery of the Flight Data (FDR) and the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR), erroneously known as the “black boxes” are now essential to allow a full understanding of the cause of this tragic accident. We should not jump to the conclusion that the aircraft has been destroyed by the storm but it does appear that weather has contributed to the accident, possibly by causing the flight crew to lose control.

The actual cause of the accident should be revealed by the recorders which are fitted to all large aircraft. They capture all vital information about the flight and exactly what the flight crew were saying and doing in the two hour period leading up to the time of the accident.

It is a weakness in the system that this information is currently held within the recorders on board the aircraft making it essential for the recorders to be recovered and analysed. Why is that so? The technology certainly exists to allow all the recorded data to be downloaded to a ground based station in real time so that recovery of the recorders does not become such a priority after the event.

Streaming of the data may not be able to avoid an incident which results in a crash, but it will certainly assist by informing operations centres on the ground of the last known position of the aircraft to facilitate any search that is needed and, of great importance, it will provide information on exactly why the aircraft did crash so that lessons can be learnt to avoid such an event from repeating.

In the case of QZ8501, Air Asia and the Indonesian authorities would have known what was happening on board the aircraft in real time, prior to the crash. All large airline aircraft, and many smaller passenger craft, are already required to be fitted with this equipment, so it simply needs to be enhanced with the transmitters to stream the data to the ground.

Not so difficult you may think. However, anything that is to be fitted to a modern and very complex jet airliner needs to be tested and proven to be compatible with everything that is already fitted and certified in the aircraft. This is to avoid any possibility of interference with existing navigation or control systems, and it takes time and considerable expense. Therein lies a big part of the problem. Whilst the major “legacy” carriers of the World may be willing to invest in this equipment, and it would seem like a good marketing idea to do so, the budget or low cost carriers (LCCs) will be reluctant to spend large sums of money, possibly millions of dollars, unless it is regulated by the country in which their aircraft are registered.

Working groups with IATA, ICAO and pilot’s associations are already meeting to find a solution to this issue, prompted by the loss of MH370. Now that QZ8051 has gone down, it should accelerate the decision to legislate for fitting of additional data streaming technology.

It was understandable in the earlier days when pioneers such as Amelia Earhart were lost because they simply did not have the technology to assist with accurate navigation and communication, nor did we have the satellites circling the Earth which now provide accurate positioning data for every aircraft equipped with a GPS navigation system. We now have the technology which will allow aviation authorities and aircraft operators to know exactly what their aircraft are doing at all times and which can be used to pinpoint the site of any accident. However, there is a catch. This clever navigation and avionics equipment needs electrical power to function.

Therefore, if an aircraft suffers a catastrophic event in the air or as the result of a crash, the equipment will cease to function. Therefore, it may prove to be more effective to have a 'look down' capability within the satellite system itself so that information can be acquired by ground stations even if the aircraft ceases to transmit its position.
Tuesday, 30 December 2014
Posted by Des Ross

CNN Interview discussing Air Asia Flight QZ8501

Desmond Ross in discussion with CNN anchor John Vause on the disappearance of the Air Asia A320-200 off the Indonesian coast.

Interview link :
Monday, 29 December 2014
Posted by Des Ross

70th Anniversary of the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation

The 7th December 1944 was an eventful day for the aviation world but also for the World in general and a critical step forward in the facilitation of international relationships and travel. Even in those dark days of the second World War, there were far sighted people who recognised the importance that international air transport would have in the post war era, in developing international relationships, business and tourism.

They recognised the need for a legal framework with rules and regulations that would essentially control the way in which civil aircraft could be operated for the common benefit of all peaceful nations. So, the Convention on International Civil Aviation was drafted and initial signatures from 54 Nations brought the Convention to life in Chicago on 7th December 1944. Since then it has been signed and ratified by 192 Nations.

The birth of the Convention was commemorated in Chicago on Monday 8th December 2014 in the Grand Ballroom of Chicago’s Hilton hotel, the same room where the first signatures were appended to the document. 70th Anniversary of Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation.

MONTRÉAL, 5 December 2014 – The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) will be joined by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, and many other senior U.S. and international officials this coming Monday, 8 December, for a special ceremony in the Grand Ballroom of Chicago’s Hilton hotel commemorating the drafting and signing there of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention) in 1944.

Heads of many major international aviation organizations will also be on hand. ICAO’s ceremonial proceedings on 8 December will revolve around an Extraordinary Session of the UN civil aviation organization’s permanent Council of 36 Member States, which will debate a Resolution on the contributions and relevance of the Chicago Convention to global peace and prosperity since its adoption 70 years ago. In the afternoon of the same day, an international aviation law Symposium on the Convention’s past, present and future will be organized by DePaul University, while on the evening of 7 December the U.S. FAA will be welcoming the many high-level international guests to Chicago with a special reception.

All of these events will be in addition to ICAO’s Montreal ceremonies on 5 December. “The Chicago Convention is a uniquely successful example of how the nations of the world can cooperate to very positive ends,” highlighted ICAO Council President Dr. Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu. “And we’re grateful to be able to recognize those benefits in the very room where this agreement was drafted in 1944. Through the foresight of its drafters, and the subsequent connectivity fostered for world citizens and businesses, the Chicago Convention has permitted the global air transport network to expand exponentially over the past seven decades, bringing increased peace and prosperity wherever aircraft can fly.” “The role of ICAO and the many benefits delivered through the Chicago Convention are clear to me every time I travel by air,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. “Safe, reliable, rapid and sustainable transport is crucial for the global economy and an instrumental element in our work to build a better future for all.”
Monday, 8 December 2014
Posted by Des Ross

Air Defence Intercept Procedures Demonstrated by Indonesia and the UK

As if on cue, we have witnessed three recent demonstrations, of how the Royal Malaysian Air Force should have reacted in the early hours of Saturday 8th March when MH370 disappeared.

 Wed 22nd October 2014:  JAKARTA
Two Indonesian fighter jets were scrambled on Wednesday 22nd October to force an Australian twin engine turbo prop Beechcraft King Air 90 aircraft to land at Manado, Sulawesi in Indonesia.
An Indonesian air force spokesman said the King Air was initially spotted over the island of Timor but had no flight clearance or documents filed, so two Russian Sukhoi 27 fighter aircraft were scrambled from Makassar, South Sulawesi, to intercept it.  Internationally known procedures were followed by the fighter pilots to indicate to the civil pilots that they were required to land at Manado.
It was later found that the aircraft was on a delivery flight from Darwin to the Philippines and posed no threat to Indonesian security. 

28th October 2014:   JAKARTA
A civilian aeroplane was intercepted by two Indonesian Air Force fighter jets and forced to land at Supadio Air Force Base in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, on Tuesday 28th October.
The aircraft, registered VH-PFK was flying over Indonesian airspace without a flight plan or clearance.  VH-PFK is an Australian registration mark but it is based in Singapore at Seletar Airport.
The Indonesian Air Force advised that the interception began at 07:56, when the 1st National Air Defence Sector Command (Kosekhanudnas) at Halim Perdanakusuma Air Force Base in East Jakarta detected an aircraft without clearance in the Pontianak area.
Two Russian-made Sukhoi Su-27/30 Flankers, were scrambled from Batam, Riau Islands, “But the chase failed because the targeted plane was already too far away.”
At 1300 (1400 Singapore time), Indonesian military radar detected the unidentified plane re-entering Indonesian airspace, over the South China Sea at an altitude of between 20,000 and 25,000 feet and a speed of between 250 to 350 knots.
The two Sukhoi fighters again took off from Batam and “The plane was intercepted in the southern area of the Natuna Islands.  After visual identification and radio contact was established, the Singaporean pilot was instructed to land at Pontianak and touched down at 13:23.  The pilot was then interrogated by Air Force personnel,” the statement read.
The Beechcraft King Air had departed from Cebu, the Philippines, enroute to Seletar Airport in Singapore, according to the official Air Force website.

29th October 2014: LONDON
Two RAF Typhoon fighter jets scrambled to intercept a Latvian Antonov cargo plane over Kent which had lost contact with civil air traffic controllers and was causing concern to ATC and security officials.  The RAF Typhoons followed well established intercept procedures and signalled the pilot of the Antonov to follow them to Stansted Airport where it landed safely.
An airport spokesman said police officers surrounded the aircraft after it landed at 17:15 in what were described as standard procedure when communication had been lost with an aircraft.
So, now we have had 3 clear demonstrations of the international standard operational system by which any sovereign nation is entitled to defend its airspace.
In fact there have been many more similar intercepts between military aircraft over the last years and it is a very well practiced procedure in European and Asian airspace.
The question remains … how did the Royal Malaysian Air Force air defence system know, with such certainty, that they were tracking a civilian aircraft heading from the Gulf of Thailand over mainland Malaysia, and in fact over Penang, the main RMAF base in the area, and that it was not going to threaten the security of the State of Malaysia in any way?   Why did they not follow the same internationally recognised procedures as did Indonesia and the UK, and send up interceptors to ensure that it was not a threat?
If they were so sure that it was a civilian aircraft which posed no threat, why was this not coordinated with the civil ATC officers in Kuala Lumpur ATC Centre and identified as MH370?
Given the facts as stated by the RMAF that they observed this unidentified aircraft cruising at 35,000 feet, then turning to the left, zooming up to about 45,000 feet and then descending rapidly to 10,000 feet whilst heading on a track that would pass very close to a major air force facility in Penang, it is difficult to understand how they considered this to be a normal civil operation which did not need to be investigated by interceptor aircraft.  At the least, it is hard to understand why the military operator did not discuss and coordinate all this with the civil controller at the time, and so resolve the mystery of MH370 there and then.
Monday, 3 November 2014
Posted by Des Ross

What happened in the first four hours when MH370 disappeared??




I am watching with some amazement, the amount of money being expended in the search of the southern Indian Ocean for MH370.  Like Tim Clark, the CEO of Emirates Airlines, (Sydney Morning Herald 11 October 2014), I am not convinced of the official version of the final moments of MH370.  Nor am I convinced that it is anywhere near the southern Indian Ocean and I am quite familiar with Doppler effect, satellite handshakes and all the other high tech stuff that is being promulgated!

SBS TV aired an excellent programme on 5th Oct, dealing with the disappearance of MH370.  It was a BBC documentary produced in UK and called “Where is Flight MH370”.
It is one of the best documentaries I have seen on the subject and it covered most of the detail and circumstances known to the general public at this point.

However, as with almost every other commentary made to date, the programme studiously avoided reference to that 4 hour period immediately after the aircraft disappeared!!!   The omission of any reference to this period was blindingly obvious and made me wonder again, why it is being avoided in the media and in any official commentary.  Perhaps it is lack of understanding of what should have happened.

Many facts are missing, but many are available and should be released.   We know that the initial period was filled with confusion and even misinformation from the airline itself which, at one stage, told ATC that it had contact with the aircraft in Cambodian airspace.  This was found to be completely incorrect and the flight had never entered Cambodian airspace.  In any case, it was not valid for the air traffic controllers to accept this information if they had not been in contact with the aircraft and had not given a clearance for it to deviate from its track.  

The BBC documentary, did refer, briefly, to the stunning inaction of the Vietnamese controller, in Ho Chi Minh centre, who took 17 minutes to ask the Malaysian controller why MH370 had not transferred to his radio frequency as had been expected.

That should have happened within 2 to 3 minutes of the expected transfer time when MH370 was instructed to establish contact with Ho Chi Minh control at the boundary of their airspace.

There has not been any explanation as to why the Vietnamese controller took so long to check on the aircraft for which he was then responsible.   This is a serious matter and needs to be explained!!

An explanation is also needed as to why the controller in Kuala Lumpur did not initiate a call to Ho Chi Minh centre when he saw the MH370 data block disappear from his screen.  Did he not want to know why that had occurred?

The BBC documentary made no further reference to that criminal lack of coordination and the programme continued with diagrams and reference to the Malaysian military having tracked the aircraft across the Malaysian peninsula, out to the Malacca Straits and then the Andaman Sea.

The programme, reported the Malaysian authorities as saying that there had been heavy security issues surrounding the tracking of the aircraft so they had not been able to reveal this immediately.  

We have also been told that the military determined that it was a civil aircraft and, therefore, of no concern to them.

Frankly, that is absolute RUBBISH either way you look at it!!!!

Every professional pilot and military person knows that EVERY country maintains surveillance of its airspace to the best of its technical capability.  Everyone knows that Malaysia has a military radar system which monitors ALL flights in its area of responsibility.  The ex-Deputy PM, Anwar Ibrahim, who the current authorities keep trying to silence, recently stated on BBC TV that he had authorised a state of the art military surveillance system to be installed whilst he was Deputy PM of Malaysia.  

So, what secret was there and what were they so protective about?   What needed to be kept secret from the World even when 239 people were lost??

What should have happened, under international protocols that are well established and published in various operational documents, was that the Malaysian Air Force should have investigated the then unidentified aircraft they were tracking to ensure that it was not a threat to Malaysia.

The first action would have been for the military air defence officer to contact the civil air traffic controller and discuss the unidentified radar target to try to establish its identity.  In any case the civil controller should have contacted his military counterpart to ask him to assist with finding MH370.  The military system does not need a transponder to be operating on the aircraft and can identify a “blip” on its system without any transmission from the aircraft.

This simple coordination between military and civil officers should have solved the issue then and there.  It is hard to believe that this did not occur.


Did the military air defence officer make an assumption that he was tracking a civil aircraft that posed no threat to Malaysia, or did he know??   If he was certain, we need to ask how he knew?  If he was making an assumption, then he was prepared to risk the security of his nation.

Did the civil air traffic controller not think to ask the military for their assistance in tracking his missing aircraft?  It is very difficult to believe that he would not have used all possible resources available to him to find MH370 at that point.  A blindingly obvious resource would be the military air defence radar system.  One of the civil ATC officer’s first actions should have been a call to his military counterpart to ask if he had any unidentified aircraft on radar. 

The next action is that both military and civil personnel should have attempted to establish radio contact with the unidentified aircraft.  The Vietnamese controller should also have been doing this on his own radio frequency.  They did ask another Malaysian Airlines flight to try to contact MH370 but this was not successful.

If no communication was established, then the Malaysian Air Force should have sent an interceptor aircraft to allow the military pilot to identify and follow the unidentified aircraft to find out where it was headed.  There should not have been any consideration, at that point, of shooting the intruder out of the sky, as was suggested by the Malaysian Defence Minister on BBC TV.  It was purely a matter of identification.
If they had done so, we would not be looking for the aircraft now, the families would know what had happened and millions of dollars could have been saved!!   

There is absolutely no secret about the Malaysian Air Force ability to track an aircraft in their airspace, so why did they withhold vital information for several days?  Why did they not assist in the search and reveal that they tracked it on radar flying out to the Andaman Sea?   OR DID IT REALLY?

What is the secret they were guarding??  

What prevented them from tracking the aircraft and sending up an interceptor aircraft to follow it and try to communicate with it?

Why is there still no information in the public domain about what happened that night during the first four hours?

Some of the answers to this conundrum are readily available but are being withheld.

The Malaysians released the voice record and transcript of the conversations between the aircraft and the KL air traffic controllers.  I believe they thought this would satisfy people, and it probably has in many cases.  However, what we all need to understand is that EVERYTHING is recorded in the operational environment.  

That first 4 hours is all on official record and will explain much of what occurred.  

There are several recordings which have not been released and they are all on separate recorders / hard disks.

1.            There is the pilot / air traffic controller recording which we have all heard and read in the media.
2.            There is a separate recording of the voice coordination between the air traffic controllers in Kuala Lumpur and in Ho Chi Minh City.  This coordination is done via a voice / data link between the control centres and the pilots do not hear it.   This is fully recorded and kept for a minimum of 30 days.
3.            There is another recording of the communications between the military air defence officer who was tracking the “unknown” aircraft and anyone else he talked to.  There would definitely be a recording of any conversation between him and the civil air traffic controller in the KL control centre, if they did in fact talk to each other.  If they did not talk to each other in these circumstances I would call it criminal negligence.
4.            All telephone conversations into and out of the military centre and the civil ATC centre are recorded also.  So, any conversations between Malaysian Airlines and the ATC centre would be recorded and available.

It is important to understand that all of this information is available and SHOULD be carefully examined by the air safety investigators who are charged with finding out what happened to MH370.  However, it should, in these circumstances, also be made available to the families or their independent investigators to allow an assessment of what happened.

Given that the Australian tax payers are now funding a massive search in the southern Indian Ocean, I believe that this information should also be made available to improve our understanding of what happened.
Nobody can tell us that the recordings do not exist.   The communications technology used is very sophisticated and operates through an unbreakable, system known as a Voice Switch.  The recording is the ground based equivalent of the Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder (black boxes) on board the aircraft and the first thing that should have happened on the morning after the disappearance of MH370 is that the hard disks containing the recordings should have been taken out of the system and stored securely for examination by the investigators.  There should not be any possibility of loss of data or of it being over recorded by later data.

There has been no reference to these ground based systems and it seems that the Malaysian authorities will have to be pushed into releasing those recordings.

Therein lies the issue.  Neither Malaysia nor Australia seem to wish to make this information public and could be accused of covering up vital information which would help the families and independent investigators to work out what happened. 

All the searching and heart ache could have been avoided if the Malaysian authorities had done their jobs properly that night.

Information is missing on these first 4 hours.   It is unfair to the relatives and friends of the missing crew and passengers of MH370 and it is costing us all a fortune in wasted effort because of the apparent break down of the Malaysian and Vietnamese ATC systems on that night!!!!

Given Malaysia’s demonstrated paranoia about secrecy and the time it took them to tell us they were tracking the flight on that night, it seems that they will need a big push to release the ground based recordings.  However, this information needs to be made available.
Monday, 20 October 2014
Posted by Des Ross

ABC News 24 Interview.

Part One of an interview with ABC 24.

Part Two of an interview with ABC 24.
Monday, 13 October 2014
Posted by Des Ross

ABC 24 Interview. Sept 11 2014

Des discussing MH370 on an ABC 24 Special

Saturday, 20 September 2014
Posted by Des Ross

RT International. Sept 9th 2014

Des discussing the Investigative report on the MH17 tragedy on the Russia Today International network from Moscow.

Video Link 
Wednesday, 10 September 2014
Posted by Des Ross

Russia Today. 1st August 2014

Des discussing the MH17 tragedy on the Russia Today network from Moscow.

Interview with RT
Thursday, 14 August 2014
Posted by Des Ross

Des Ross interviewed by Margaret Throsby. ABC. 31st July 2014

Listen  below to the ABC interview with Des Ross where he talks about current Aviation issues and about his career in Aviation.

ABC Interview
Tuesday, 5 August 2014
Posted by Des Ross

IS IT SAFE TO FLY??? Unequivocally --- YES!

Although we have had a few disastrous months in 2014 with the loss of two Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 aircraft, MH370 and MH17, followed this last week by the loss of the Taiwanese Trans Asia Airlines ATR72 Flight GE222 and the Air Algerie MD83 Flight AH5017, you still run a much greater risk of death or injury by driving your car to the supermarket than you do by flying across the World.

Friday, 25 July 2014
Posted by Des Ross

BBC World News. July 23rd 2014.

Des discusses the issues and risks surrounding flying over conflict zones in commercial airlines

Thursday, 24 July 2014
Posted by Des Ross

ABC 7:30 Report. Piece by Piece. 23rd July 2014.

Des talks about the failures on the ground in the aftermath of the MH 17 Crash.

ABC Iview.

Posted by Des Ross

ABC Lateline Interview. Black boxes hold answers to MH17 crash. 20th July 2014

Des discussing the MH17 crash with Emma Alberici

Posted by Des Ross

BBC News. Interview with Des Ross. May 29th, 2014

Des discussing the latest news on the MH370 aeroplane search on the BBC
Friday, 30 May 2014
Posted by Des Ross

ABC News 24 Interview with Des Ross. May 2nd, 2014.

Abc News Interview about Malaysian MH370 broadcast live on May 2nd, 2014.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014
Posted by Des Ross

International AVSEC Presentation

Desmond Ross, Asia Pacific Regional VP for the AVSEC association - Creating an International aviation security network to drive the industry’s development

Sunday, 20 April 2014
Posted by Des Ross

On Lateline disussing Flight MH370

Desmond Ross discusses Flight MH 370

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Broadcast: 10/03/2014
Reporter: Emma Alberici
Aviation security expert, Desmond Ross, discusses the possible explanations for the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines plane.


EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: Desmond Ross is the Asia Pacific vice-president of the International Aviation Security Management Association. He has more than 40 years' experience as a test pilot and air traffic controller. He's also recently been an aviation security and counter-terrorism expert with the European Union mission in South Sudan. Captain Ross is the opening speaker at the Asia Pacific Aviation Security Conference being held in Canberra this week and he joins us now.

Welcome to Lateline.


EMMA ALBERICI: Are you puzzled by the lack of any confirmed sighting of debris from this plane more than 48 hours after it disappeared?

DESMOND ROSS: No, I can't say that I am, and unfortunately, the longer it takes, the more difficult it's going to be to find things. The - if the aircraft had in fact broken up at high altitude, it's probably scattered over a very wide area. If it hit water in a single piece, as it were, straight in, it would've broken up obviously at that point, but a lot of it would've gone to the depths. Small pieces of debris are extremely difficult to find over a moving ocean. I've taken part in exercises where we've been looking for bright orange rafts which - with six people on board and even when you're 500 feet above water and almost on top of them, they can still be extremely difficult to see in moving water if there are waves. I'm not familiar with that particular stretch of water, but I imagine that it's quite a busy stretch of water and that there is probably a lot of debris floating around which has got nothing to do with this aircraft accident and it'll just be rubbish floating on the ocean. I'm not particularly surprised.

EMMA ALBERICI: Does the absence of any distress calls or other radio communication with the aircraft indicate that this is most likely to have been an explosion, a bomb in mid-air?

DESMOND ROSS: There's so many different scenarios that could be true. The aircraft could have broken up, the pilots may have been incapacitated almost immediately, could've been an explosive decompression where they couldn't breathe, they couldn't reach the necessary buttons or radios. People talk about radio communications. Modern jet airliners of that type don't use normal radio communications quite so much these days. They do of course have radios and they do of course spoke to ground air traffic control and other aircraft, but the majority of communications (inaudible) data link, so that in fact it's rather like operating a laptop computer and the information, air traffic control clearances, etc., will come up on a screen. So there's not a lot of necessarily voice communication. That type of communication takes a few moments to actually put in place. They would've been out of VHF range, that is line of sight range. They would've had to use probably HF radio out there, which is not necessarily clear.

I'm not really surprised. There's also transponders. Most of the communications these days are via satellite as well and the pilot would turn a switch on a transponder, which would indicate - or can indicate by putting it on the correct frequency or the correct code, could indicate a hijack, could indicate some other emergency or problems. He obviously hasn't had time to do any of that either. Maybe he was dead. Maybe he was incapacitated. Maybe the windscreen blew out. Who knows?

EMMA ALBERICI: Given your experience with security matters in the aviation sphere, tell us, how did two people manage to check into Kuala Lumpur Airport with stolen passports?

DESMOND ROSS: Entirely a human failure on the part of the Immigration authorities and the airline itself. The responsibility for making sure that the correct people board the aircraft is really a joint one. The Immigration people are the first line of defence, as it were. When you check in, when you go through Immigration controls, the officer sitting opposite you should make sure that the face in front of him is exactly the same as the one on the passport. It would appear that that has not occurred on this occasion. The airline itself is also supposed to make an additional check before you board the aircraft. Airlines are subject to quite heavy fines. If they arrive at a destination where a passenger is not who they should be, who doesn't have a visa, perhaps, to enter a country where they're flying for, the airline is then responsible and it will pay a fine and it is also responsible for returning the passenger to its - to the point of departure. So, it's a failure all round.

EMMA ALBERICI: And it's quite unsettling to hear Interpol say that too few countries systematically screen travellers with Interpol's stolen and lost travel documents database, a database that was specifically set up after the terrorist attacks of September 11.

DESMOND ROSS: And a huge database at that. Information today indicates that there is some 39 million passports listed on this database as either being lost and/or stolen. That's an enormous number. I didn't believe it when I first heard it, but I understand it to be pretty close to correct. I don't know how long a period that has gone perhaps since the 9/11 events. But it's on a database and it's a simple matter of checking the passport that you have in your hand against the database to see whether it's a valid passport. That obviously did not occur either in this case. Australia does it as a matter of course, the US does, the UK and European countries - they do this as a matter of course to ensure that the passports are genuine.

EMMA ALBERICI: How significant is it to you that these two presumably men were travelling on stolen passports, because there has been some suggestion today that many illegal immigrants routinely collect fake documents from Thailand?

DESMOND ROSS: Yeah. And not only Thailand; it's quite a big business in quite a number of countries, including Central Asia and even some places I know of in the Pacific. And you can buy our passport with whatever photograph you want on it if you like. But it's becoming increasingly difficult. The International Civil Aviation Organization, based in Montreal, which is the peak body for aviation, is responsible for the design and ensuring that machine-readable travel documents are now becoming the standard. These machine-readable travel documents, if you've recently got a passport in the last perhaps five to 10 years, you'll find there's a little computer chip in it with biometric data on it. So it's becoming increasingly difficult to forge passports, but there's still countries out there who do not have that level of sophistication and they don't necessarily have the readers at the entry point either. Malaysia does have it and I would've thought that China also would have it by now. They're usually quite well-up with the technology. So, it's concerning. The system has broken down entirely. It's not entirely an aviation security matter, it's an immigration, border control matter. What we refer to these days is integrated border management. Everyone is supposed to talk to each other - Immigration, Customs, aviation security, but they're not doing it.

EMMA ALBERICI: And very briefly, investigators say they're still not ruling out anything, including a catastrophic mechanical failure or pilot error or both. What do you think is most likely to have happened here?

DESMOND ROSS: It's - it is pure speculation, unfortunately, until some parts of the aircraft are discovered, but I think as the seconds tick past, I think we're moving more and more closer to a - unfortunately perhaps an explosion that has been caused by perhaps a bomb. What is confusing: if it was an act of terrorism, 48 hours now into the event, there have been no claims of responsibility. And there's not much value in blowing up an aircraft if you don't tell the world why you've done it and who are you are. So, if it was al-Qaeda or any of the well-known terrorist organisations, you would've thought they might've claimed responsibility by now, which they have not done.

So, that then leads us back to the possibility of a catastrophic mechanical failure. A highly unlikely event with modern aircraft - highly unlikely. And the Boeing 777 has, to the best of my knowledge, only had one previous accident, which was a human error accident where it slammed into the sea wall in San Francisco about a year ago. I'm not aware of any mechanical or technical failures of such significance that it has either grounded or caused an accident with the 777.

EMMA ALBERICI: Captain Ross, many thanks for your time this evening.

DESMOND ROSS: Welcome. Thanks.
Saturday, 19 April 2014
Posted by Des Ross

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