BLOG: Avoiding Another Malaysia Flight 370 Nightmare

March 25, 2014; 4:13 AM
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By: Barry Lee Myers, AccuWeather Chief Executive Officer

The mystery of Malaysia Flight 370 is a nightmare for so many. My heart goes out to them all.

As one who travels a lot, and for all of my fellow travelers and their friends and families, it is a wake-up call to common sense.

In the weather enterprise, especially where people have access to social media, crowd-sourcing and event reporting are becoming common ways to understand weather occurrences in both populated and less populated areas. In fact, companies like AccuWeather have developed and hold patents on techniques to use these reports to assemble information about events that fixed stations on the ground (like land-based weather radar) and weather satellites in orbit may not see.

An office building is illuminated with LED lights displaying "Pray for MH370" next to Malaysia's landmark Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Wednesday, March 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)

News reports suggest that the legal authorities have distributed radar and satellite reports and images for people to access online to see if, through crowd-sourcing, human consensus might develop in the collective minds of people viewing the images and help detect subtle differences that might lead to places to search for the missing plane.

In the wake of 9/11, billions of dollars have been spent in airline security around the world, yet a massive Boeing 777 has just vanished.

We know from the plane that went down in Shanksville, Pa., on 9/11 what was going on in the cabin, because it was close enough to the ground that people's cell phone signals were being picked up by cell towers.

We also know that more and more planes flying over land have Wi-Fi access, but that is not a universal constant globally and it is not yet in general practice on international flights. Cell phone use in the air, and especially over water, is not available.

If the international aviation community chose to require both Wi-Fi and cell service on all flights, active at all times, and had fail-safe satellite systems to ensure connections, this would make it more difficult to disconnect passengers from the world. And the passengers would become a crowd-sourcing group within the cabin, which would give information about what was going on in the plane that would be difficult to stop short of instant and massive in-air structural failure.

We look at these capabilities, Wi-Fi and cell access, as services and conveniences, but in a modern world they are more than that. They are the passengers' contact with the outside world, allowing them to retain some control of their own destiny and not completely delegate it to the crew, hijackers or terrorists.

Had these communication links existed on Flight 370, the friends and relatives of the missing, and the rest of the global community, would have had a better chance of knowing what happened and, perhaps, even assisting them. It would also act as a deterrent to such nefarious people, because it would make the people on the plane and the military jets that might be scrambled, less containable.

Enabling the ability of passenger self-help through instant communications is a crowd-sourcing deterrent that needs to be explored.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com.

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