MH370 airliner MYSTERY: The El Reg Pub/Dinner-party Guide
Analysis So, the mysterious case of the missing flight MH370. We’ve mainly stayed out of this – apart from noting that no, the jet wasn’t hackjacked using a mobile phone. But naturally we’ve been poking around a bit to see what we could find out, and it’s not completely nothing.
Here’s what we bring to the party. Some of us know a bit about aviation, occasionally to the extent of having held pilot’s licences. Some of us know a bit about the theory of navigation. Some of us know a bit about satellites and wireless data generally. And we happen to know an experienced airline pilot who has flown Boeing 777s. So we’ve been able to drill through a lot of misleading reports about “satellite tracking” and extended flight below 5,000 feet and that sort of thing.
So here’s the timeline as we understand it, with what insight we can add:
0041 local time 8 Mar (1641 GMT 7 March)
Flight MH370 takes off from Kuala Lumpur headed for Beijing. Scheduled landing time was 0630, approximately 5 hours 50 minutes later.
Our man in the cockpit tells us that it would be normal to have enough fuel to arrive at Beijing, then to divert to another airport (+1 hour) plus a further reserve (+30 minutes more, give or take). Thus the plane would normally have taken off carrying fuel for perhaps 7 hours 30 minutes in the air. If the captain wanted, “he could easily take another hour’s fuel without the copilot becoming too suspicious, especially in such a vertical crew culture as the far eastern carriers have”. (Normally a captain tries not to overload a plane with fuel as air-freighting fuel from airport to airport costs fuel – and thus money – in itself.)
Our man adds: “IF they were both in on some type of plan they could have filled it up to whatever level of fuel they wanted, all the way to maximum tanks fuel which could give them 13-14 hours endurance at the limit”.
Boeing 777-2H6ER 9M-MRO, the aircraft used on flight MH370. Credit: Rodger McCutcheon, Auckland Photo News
We’d note, though, that if the plane had taken on an unusually large amount of extra fuel the fact would probably have leaked to the media by now, and the Malaysian government would be speaking of different search areas than it is doing. Some Far Eastern reports suggest a full 8 hours’ worth or more of fuel was loaded (as opposed to 7 as most of the media are suggesting) and this would be cautious but normal conduct by the captain.