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The Almighty Buck Transportation Technology

Most Expensive Aviation Search: $53 Million To Find Flight MH370 233

Posted by timothy
from the what's-the-right-amount-to-spend? dept.
mdsolar (1045926) writes "The search and investigation into missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is already the most expensive in aviation history, figures released to Fairfax Media suggest. The snippets of costings provide only a small snapshot but the $US50 million ($54 million) spent on the two-year probe into Air France Flight 447 — the previous record — appears to have been easily surpassed after just four weeks.... The biggest expense in the search has involved ships, satellites, planes and submarines deployed first in the South China Sea and the Malacca Straits, and then in the remote reaches of the southern Indian Ocean."
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Most Expensive Aviation Search: $53 Million To Find Flight MH370

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  • I am now walking to my local bank and trying to explain how my $5000 USD is actually $5400! I printed a copy of this article as proof!!!!
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Article is from .com.au... k.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      That line was talking about how much 50 million USD was in Australian dollars. Way to fail, brah.

      • by ScentCone (795499)

        Way to fail, brah.

        There is no context in which that phrase can be used - earnestly, ironically, sarcastically, ignorantly, juvenilely, ham-fistedly, or otherwise - in which the person saying it can ever, ever tell someone else they've failed.

      • by mooingyak (720677)

        Would probably have helped to specify in the summary. My first four thoughts on seeing that were:

        1. Someone meant to use the Euro symbol. But I'm pretty sure 1 Euro > 1 USD currently. So that's not it.
        2. Inflation adjusted dollars.
        3. Canadian dollars?.
        4. Look through the comments and see who else wondered the same thing.

  • And yet, people stated that "it would be soooo expensive" to add proper tracking to planes.

    • Re:Tracking` (Score:4, Insightful)

      by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Friday April 04, 2014 @10:22PM (#46666945) Journal

      First, I don't imagine that Malaysia Air is paying that $50,000,000. Malaysia Air is out the cost of a Boeing 777 and probably some death benefits. But I'm sure those things are insured. On the other hand, Malaysia Air would have to pay for this tracking system.

      Second, I'd point out that the last big "disappearance" (i.e., nobody immediately knew where it crashed) was in 2009--five years ago. And it's not like it's that common that airplanes crash and are not found within a few days. So you're spending money on the off chance that an airplane of yours crashes somewhere difficult to find. You'll probably spend that money for 50 years before you ever take advantage of the system. So, yeah, it's not really worth it to Malaysia Air.

      Third, let's say you add the trackers. You spend the money year in and year out and, eventually, it comes in handy. So what? You can look and say, "Yup! The plane just crashed in the middle of the Indian Ocean!" Now what? You're still out the plane. You're probably not going to have much for survivors on a plane that crashes in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It's not going to make a difference in your insurance premiums. You're adding costs for basically no benefit.

      • Re:Tracking` (Score:4, Interesting)

        by S.O.B. (136083) on Friday April 04, 2014 @11:30PM (#46667297)

        I'm sure similar arguments were made when the original black boxes were made mandatory on aircraft.

        A new Boeing 777-200ER is about $260M [boeing.com]. A Canadian has developed an enhanced black box that constantly sends data back to the airline. The cost would be $100,000 which is only 0.04% of the cost of the aircraft and $85,000 more that the boxes they would replace. There would also be satellite data transfer charges which would be only a few thousand dollars for a flight like MH370 or about $20 per passenger on the flight. You could even limit the data transfer to trans oceanic flights to minimize the impact on low cost and domestic carriers.

        Of course, all those costs would come down if every new aircraft was equipped like this. I'm sure the families of the MH370 would consider this minimal cost money well spent.

        • by photonic (584757)
          Data charges would be much less than that, $20 extra per ticket would be unacceptably high. Some spokesman for Inmarsat (who obviously has a big interest in making permanent data connections mandatory) said that data costs for such a flight would be on the order of 1$/hour for the whole aircraft. Data rates should also be pretty low, 1 GPS coordinate per minute would have helped enormously for both the AirFrance and MalaysiaAirlines crashes, the detailed high-bandwidth data you can always get from the black
        • Without understanding what went wrong with the plane, we can't know whether the proposed enhanced black box would be effective. There were systems in the aircraft to report its position and status remotely - namely ACARS and its transponders. These failed or were disabled early on. It is quite possible that whatever took those systems out would have also disabled communications from an enhanced black box.

          Until we know the cause of the crash, proposing a solution is premature.

    • And yet, people stated that "it would be soooo expensive" to add proper tracking to planes.

      The 'people' are correct. $50M is much, much less than the billions it would cost to add 'proper tracking' to planes that cross oceans - And it still doesn't address the problem of someone in the cockpit switching the tracking off.

      • by AK Marc (707885)
        It's estimated to be $200,000 per plane for live tracking. "Billons" would be a huge exaggeration.
        • by ibwolf (126465)

          It's estimated to be $200,000 per plane for live tracking. "Billons" would be a huge exaggeration.

          That's 5000 planes per one billion. There are almost one thousand Boeing 777s in operation today. Add in all other comparable, i.e. long range aircraft (757, 747, 787 plus the Airbus equivalents) and you are quickly into the (very low admittedly) billions.

          • you are quickly into the (very low admittedly) billions.

            You're into the high(er) billions once you add all the satellite bandwidth into the mix.

    • Re:Tracking` (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Savage-Rabbit (308260) on Friday April 04, 2014 @10:53PM (#46667127)

      And yet, people stated that "it would be soooo expensive" to add proper tracking to planes.

      It is. As a manufacturer you have to machete your way through a jungle of red tape, get all manner of safety assessments etc. to even be allowed to install the ADSC-B/C equipment [wikipedia.org] on the aircraft. This is very time consuming and expensive, which is one reason why all aircraft avionics and generally anything that goes into an aircraft is by definition obscenely expensive to buy (right down to LCD screens and coffee makers) and why old airliner designs get reworked (it's a smaller bureaucratic workload to get a new variant of an existing design flying than a totally new design). If this seems like dumb bureaucracy keep in mind that aircraft have been lost to crappy installation of retrofitted electronics (a good example being Swissair Flight 111 [wikipedia.org]). To install the equipment your airline has to ground the aircraft for at least a week (installation costs and lost revenue). Depending on the type of aircraft you operate and its age there may not even have been provision for the ADSC-B/C equipment which means airframe modifications and more downtime (yet more lost revenue and expenses) followed by more certifications and inspections. On top of that different ATC areas sometimes require you to have different equipment. Even simple stuff like software upgrades only happen at a glacial pace so if you think that fixing a simple software bug on an airliner is as simple as downloading an install package from the support section of the Boeing/Airbus website, uploading it to your USB stick, plugging it into a USB socket in the dashboard of your Boeing 777 airliner and selecting "Update firmware" on the FMS screen you have another thing coming. Airliners are one of the safest modes of transportation but that comes at a cost in time and money.

    • by fermion (181285)
      Using industry estimates, i calculated that it would cost a few billion dollars to equip the next several years of commercial airplanes, not counting the current fleet. This money to prevent an expenditure 2 order of magnitudes smaller that might only occur every 10 years. It is risk assessment. And there is no way to know if it would have been any more effective than the current system. It would be just as meaningful to say that we should put a battery in the black box that lasts a year, or has a much
    • by Xylantiel (177496)
      Really, if you're listening to reasonable people it's not expensive at all to have satellite-based ACARS enabled on all planes and have it include some basic flight information. In fact we knew from the first day or two that this plane had flown on for hours after the incident, the Malaysians were just not listening to the satellite techs. And if Malaysian air had simply paid the several thousand dollar fees we would have hours data to work with. These "real time tracking" people are just ambulance chase
  • It's worth it. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ScentCone (795499) on Friday April 04, 2014 @10:09PM (#46666879)
    Understanding what happened could be worth a lot more than $50m, or twice that.

    Major issue with the airframe, or propulsion? Very important to understand that. There are a lot more of them flying around.

    A third party's influence and/or an attempt to steal the plane? Whether that ended in a crash or a successful theft, we need to know everything we can about who, what, why, to what end. If it was stolen and landed (extremely, very unlikely), gotta know where and why. If it went in the drink during an attempt, still have to understand what the game plan was.

    Suicide? Hiding in regular traffic, then flying low and into the most remote, deepest water possible in the interests of never finding the plane - the better to make sure family collects on insurance money? Would be good to know, and will remind airlines to get harder about knowing their pilots and the pilots' current circumstances.

    Regardless, the navy assets out looking are using the whole thing as an excellent training exercise. Lots of smart people have had to whip up new ways to think about what happened, using only traces of satellite/comms data.
    • I'm thinking if those naval "training exercises" were billed as services, we'd be way past the $50M mark by now.

  • Why the search? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by AndyCanfield (700565)

    Look, yes. But why are 'they' spending more money for one downed airplane than the airplane costs originally? Why the fortune in searching? Why the massive ongoing search? Why is every government in a panic?

    I suspect that aurhorities fear a nefarious actor, and they want to find out exactly who did what so we can make sure it doesn't happen again. What if the air transport regulators never find out what brought the MH370 down, but Al-qaeda knows already?

    • Well in the case of the govt. of Australia, where this cynical newspaper article originated, it's a massive PR exercise.

      "See, our defence force do good, noble, things in their spare time", when they're not implementing the government's polarising 'stop the boats' agenda.

      Do they have a clue if and where the plane sank? Hardly...

    • You know they react like this to every crashed plane? Normally they find it on a mountain within a day or two and the media loses interest. This one is only odd because the plane was lost at sea; which only happens every 5 years or so.

      The "panic" is really only coming from the internet conspiracy machine and the media which, for some reason, takes idiotic internet conspiracy theories seriously when they have nothing to report (instead of, you know, stopping reporting until something actually happens.) The a

      • The media was playing up the "maybe somebody stole it" aspect from the very start.

        If you've ever flown over ocean, out of sight of land, or on a polar crossing route, that feeling that you're really "out there," was true. It's a big world, after all.

  • You can make some more informed guesses about the plan by looking at the succession of ranging from the Inmarsat satellite here: http://www.duncansteel.com/arc... [duncansteel.com]
  • OK, lets say it. Bullshit. We all know it didn't crash.

    It takes a series of catastrophic failures for a 777 to crash. Sure, it happens, but it is very rare. It is an extremely unlikely event.
    Now, we also know that the various telemetry devices on the plane were manually disabled by the flight crew.
    We also know from the telemetry they didn't know about (or could shut of, the engine pings) that the engines ran for about 5 hours after other telemetry was turned off.
    We know the plane turned "off course" after t

    • by elbonia (2452474)
      Your theory makes no sense. For it to land somewhere it would need to fly into the airspace of country. So which one would just let some unidentified aircraft enter it's airspace let alone land on a runway without saying anything? The only place you can fly for hours without being picked up by radar is over the ocean.
  • by Max_W (812974) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @12:34AM (#46667527)
    Why about 100 foam plastic balls of orange color with a plastic orange flag and LED light (blinking for 3-4 months after contact with water) cannot be placed inside the fuselage on an aircraft which costs hundreds of millions?

    The size could be of a tennis ball, an additional weight and cost almost zero.
    • by mmell (832646)
      Better yet - mount one flight recorder externally, designed to detach under certain circumstances (acceleration beyond aircraft design limits, transponder code 7500/7600/7700 set, manual ejection of the log buoy, etc.). Design the damned thing to deploy a parachute upon launch and to float if it hits water. Try to make it tough enough to survive hitting land at speed.
      • by Overzeetop (214511) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @01:13PM (#46670607) Journal

        Great idea...and it's already been tested an priced. Just $60,000 per aircraft for a known-working system.

        With roughly 31,000 commercial passenger aircraft in use, that's about 1,800,000,000 (1.8 Billion) dollars to equip. You could mount searches for 35 lost planes for that money, and a plane goes missing (of this magnitude) once every 3-4 years. So about a 120-150 year payback period, or about 3-4x the life span of the aircraft in question.

  • most expensive? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by the_Bionic_lemming (446569) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @01:32AM (#46667695)

    What would the Amelia Earhart' search cost in today's dollars when you factor in all of the historic effort?

    20 years from now, if a jet goes missing, it'll be the most expensive search in history.

    The same as if another massive Hurricane hits in a populated area 20 years from now It will be the most expensive in history.

    Heck, if inflation keeps up, 70 years from now if a factory burns down, the cost will dwarf the famous chicago fire simply because the reporters will be intellectually dishonest and just make sure that the cost will lack any simple comparison of monetary value and effort over a period of time.

  • Were the disappearance of MH370 the result of a terrorist plot, it is a near certainty that some terrorist group would have claimed credit for the disappearance. After all, what good is committing a terrorist act if nobody is left alive to be terrorized?

    During a cockpit fire, the pilots may have intentionally disabled one or more of the aircraft's systems. Presumably, they would have attempted to reactivate some of those systems (at least communications, or at the very least the flight transponder). Incidentally, the codes "7500", "7600" and "7700" are all well known to any qualified pilot - even a private pilot with no additional qualifications. I would expect the flight crew to at least attempt to set a transponder code of "7600" or "7700" (radios down / general emergency). I would not expect the flight crew to leave the transponder off - especially when flying through potentially hostile airspace. Nothing like a North Korean SSAM deployed at your unidentified jumbo jet to ruin your day. In any event, a cockpit fire severe enough to knock out comms and navs would almost certainly have downed the aircraft immediately, as I doubt seriously that damage would be confined to those two sets of systems.

    An electronic failure sufficient to completely eliminate all communications and navigational systems would similarly have downed the aircraft almost immediately. If a failure were widespread enough to eliminate all comms, the likelihood of aircraft control is practically nil (those things are fly-by-wire; no electronics, no flight control). Incidentally, I don't even want to calculate the odds of such a failure - it's possible, but so is a thousand pounds of gold spontaneously appearing in my living room. I don't even want to do math with powers of ten that high. There are multiple independent systems which would have to fail simultaneously.

    Any hacker capable (by hardware or software means) of downing a jumbo jet this way wouldn't keep quiet - like a terrorist, I can only imagine such an individual immediately telling the world how brilliant he/she is, probably while attempting to maintain anonymity.

    I'm left with this: perhaps ( perhaps ) one of the pilots suffered some form of mental disability or illness and took advantage of an opportunity to comandeer the aircraft. The evidence seems to indicate positive aircraft control throughout its ill-fated flight, implying that both the aircraft and the pilot flying her were operational.

    There are other scenarios which might explain all of the currently available evidence; however, I believe 'agnogenic systems failure' is the only appropriate conclusion that can be reached based on the current evidence.

  • The NY times has an article about how aircraft have lots of communication technologies on board but no airlines have opted to put trackers on their planes.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03... [nytimes.com]

    It would be relatively easy to install systems that send basic location, speed direction and basic airplane health data at reasonable intervals with a reasonable cost.

    Its too bad that likely legislation will be needed to get airlines to do something. I have an issue with the fact that they don't have to pay fines or help

  • by Z00L00K (682162) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @03:05AM (#46667913) Homepage

    Even if the money dedicated to this search has reached that sum it is not wasted money, in some cases this involves services with a continuous running cost that would have been 'idle' at standby anyway.

    The value of this is an exercise in cooperation, refining search methods and when the wreck finally is found it may be possible to find out what really happened. Unlikely at it seems it may even end up being caused by a meteorite - as was caught on camera by a Norwegian skydiver [youtube.com].

  • by careysub (976506) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @10:46AM (#46669455)

    Just about the most sophisticated, most mobile passive underwater sound detection systems in existence are the spherical arrays mounted in modern nuclear attack subs. In addition to being an important task - locating the missing flight data recorder that bears on U.S. national security (international terrorism being, well, international) - it looks like a good exercise to sharpen the crews passive sonar search skills.

    There has now been plenty of time for an attack sub to reach the area from anywhere in the world.

    Sub operations are routinely highly classified, so I would not expect to hear about this if it were happening. If they find something we might hear about it, or instead "laundered" cueing information might get passed to the official search teams.

  • by mspohr (589790) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @01:02PM (#46670505)

    Most of the costs listed in the article are for aircraft and ships of the military and coast guard of several countries. It does cost a lot to build and man these ships but these costs are already budgeted and incurred. Much better to have these assets doing something useful like respond to an actual emergency than sit around idle or go on training missions or "good will tours" to show the flag.
    I imagine the only extra cost attributable to this search is a bit more fuel.

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