Malaysian Air 370 Search Costliest In History
The search for Malaysian Air Flight 370, which disappeared more than a month ago on its way to Beijing, is now the costliest in history:
As the intensive hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 entered its second month on Tuesday, the only certainty was that it would become the most expensive search and recovery effort in aviation history, with an international fleet of ships and planes scouring the Indian Ocean at a cost of millions of dollars a day.
For the most part, the dozens of countries that have contributed personnel, equipment and expertise to the search have borne the costs while declining to disclose them, with officials offering a united front in saying it would be callous to talk about money while a commercial airliner and the 239 people aboard remained unaccounted for.
On Wednesday, search coordinators reported that an underwater signal had been detected on two occasions the day before, reviving hopes that the Boeing 777-200’s data and voice recorders might be located. The officials warned, however, that they may still be a long way from finding and recovering the plane, and they said they would continue deploying aircraft and ships to search for surface debris.
So, as the hunt wore on, many of the governments involved may soon face a tough decision about whether to keep bearing the extraordinary costs of the search, analysts said.
“Each country will have to ask itself: What are the prospects of further investigation and the cost-benefit of it?” said Ramon Navaratnam, chairman of the Center for Public Policy Studies at the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute in Kuala Lumpur. “If there’s no prospect, there’s no prospect: We have to be very realistic. But it’s a very difficult decision to make. It’s like someone on a medical support system and you have to determine whether to pull the wires or not.”
Until now, the costliest search and recovery effort ever undertaken followed the crash of Air France Flight 447 hundreds of miles off the coast of Brazil in 2009, reaching about 115 million euros, roughly $160 million at the time, over the course of two years, according to estimates by experts who participated in that effort.
But the search for Flight 370 is already far more complicated, and may have already topped that total. Some of the ships involved cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a day apiece to use, and some of the aircraft being used can cost thousands of dollars an hour each to operate, officials say.
If the current efforts are unsuccesful in finding any evidence of the plane, then it may well be time for the nations involved to recognize that further intensive searching may not be productive use of limited resources. As some have suggested for weeks now, this may end up being one of those aviation mysteries that remains unsolved, if not forever than at least for a very long period of time. That won’t sit well with the families, of course, but when you’re dealing with the equivalent of trying to find a needle in a haystack, there’s really not much more you can do at this point, and we’re nearing the point where it’s largely unrealistic to expect the emergency locator beacons on the voice and data recorders to continue operating given that their batteries are only certified to last 30 days.
At the same time, though, there is some importance to finding the plane, or at least its voice and data recorders, that goes beyond ending this bizarre mystery and providing closure to the families of the passengers or the crew. If there was some mechanical or design flaw in the Boeing 777 that caused what happened, then it’s in everyone’s interest to find out what that is in order to make sure it doesn’t happen again. If this was due to terrorism or some other deliberate act, it would seem important to find out what happened in order to find out what security flaws might have been exploited that we’re not aware of. At the very least, it seems likely that this incident may lead to changes in aircraft design or equipment that would make it easier to keep track of planes on long haul flights like this, or at least make it easier to locate wreckage if something like this ever happens again.
Left unanswered, of course, is what CNN will do with itself when this is all over.