Apr 29, 2014

The cost of finding MH370 is reasonable — and justified

It's been six weeks since MH370 went missing, but a lack of survivors doesn't mean the search mission is a waste of time.

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

The search for missing flight MH370 has reached the populist divide where cries of "how much is this costing" begin to drown out the wailings of the distressed relatives of the 239 people who were on board the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 which disappeared on March 8 after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing. It’s a bit like the nastiness of talkback radio when someone is lost on a bushwalk, or when massive efforts have to be made to find and rescue around-the-world sailors from broken boats only hundreds of nautical miles further south of the part of the Indian Ocean where the flight almost certainly came down. But this time it’s a whole airliner, a foreign airliner, even though there were six Australians on board. In Kuala Lumpur, and Beijing, the loss of MH370 is as raw and personal as ever. Here, it is now a matter of the good ol' catch cry of Emma Chisit. Which is why it was a prominent line of questioning of Prime Minister Tony Abbott when he announced yesterday the end of the Australian managed and co-ordinated aerial search for possible debris from MH370 and the agreement of the multinational partners for a much expanded sea floor search. To sonar map the 60,000 square kilometres of Indian Ocean sea floor where expert analysis puts the solid remains of MH370, under perfect conditions, the cost for eight months is estimated to be around $60 million. But contributions would be sought, Abbott said, from the partner nations involved in the search. Starting with Malaysia and China, who are in at times furious agreement as to the need for answers as to the whys and hows of the loss of a jet which had 153 China nationals on board. To put this into the context of the ugly chorus line of indignant talkback callers railing on about spending money on the Malaysian jet, Australia spends more than $60 million a year promoting foreign tourism to this country, and far more than that promoting trade. For whatever fraction of the $60 million Australia spends on the contracts it will soon sign for heavy-duty commercial mineral explorers to tow the best available sonar mappers deep across the target zones, it will be putting itself very prominently on centre stage in Asia as well as before the wider world and its fascination with the biggest ever mystery in the history of civil aviation. The search to date hasn’t cost Australia very much at all. Because just like searches for bushwalkers, missing rock fishermen, or kayakers in distress, the "assets" used cost much the same sitting around waiting for calls for help as they do being used. In fact, a RAAF insider noted Australia's fleet of 18 P-3 Orion maritime reconnaissance aircraft hardly fly at all these days -- so the hourly costs of operating the Orions will fall quite significantly this accounting period because the fixed costs are being divided by more hours flown. The legal responsibility for the investigation into the disappearance of MH370 is carried by Malaysia. However, the legal obligation for the search and recovery operation is Australia’s because the flight came down, so far as anyone can tell, inside what under international rules are Australia’s search, and rescue, and in this case, recovery boundaries. Getting other countries to contribute to the cost makes sense, and is not without benefits to the most callous of those amongst us.

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12 thoughts on “The cost of finding MH370 is reasonable — and justified

  1. zut alors

    There’s a big difference between around-the-world sailors who are hellbent on self-aggrandisement and willingly engage in a high risk activity compared to commercial airline passengers.

  2. stephen Matthews

    The search to date hasn’t cost Australia very much at all.
    says Mr Sandilands.
    I beg to differ .
    The cost of combing the ocean floor to possibly detect a possible remnant of an aircraft that may possibly be in that ocean ( but may not be) and if found may possibly yield but would not probably yield any tangible evidence of what occurred is minor to the aviation aficianados who populate slightly more than the 6 Australian wretches aboard the aircraft is minor I’m sure.
    To me and the rest of us I am sure the tens of millions expended thus far is enormous.
    Let the nations most affected contribute their appropriate share of the cost of this pathetic exercise. Australia’s contribution should be about 6 two hundred and thirty ninths.

  3. Handy John

    The money is well spent, if the plane is actually in the vicinity they say it is…or if it’s even in the ocean.

    The MSM read like.. ” the possible detection of a signal”,” the potential for a signal to be detected” etc etc, in the end it was all speculation and wishful thinking, or should I say, smoke and mirrors. Almost like they were copying a specially pre-prepared release.

    Far too many unanswered questions.

  4. Sprayitos

    Apparently there is untold fish in that particular area. Herring, I believe.

  5. Vincent O'Donnell

    And it would be rather good if the sonar survey data were made available to oceanographers to improve knowledge of the seabed in that remote area of the Indian Ocean.

    One issue that has not entered the discussion of the MH 370 search is the acoustic transmission qualities of the deep oceans. Ducting effects can carry sound over vast distances with little attenuation. While this is especially so at low frequencies, I’ve seen no discussion of the phenomenon in relation to the search and its possible impact of the acoustic ‘sightings’ that have determined the search area.

  6. pertina1

    Sorry but you haven’t convinced me Ben. I don’t know what the shock jocks are saying but it seems to me that that we’re spending an awful lot of money for little tangible benefit. I too sympathise with the victims families but if we are going to commit such huge sums wouldn’t it be more beneficial in the long run to apply these instead to a long term trust fund to assist the survivors. Even if we do find the missing aircraft, this won’t bring a single passenger back to life. I know if it was me on board MH 370 I’d rather my family were taken care of.

  7. cairns50

    you make a good argument regarding the plane coming down in our jurisdiction so we have a responsibility to recover it

    that should also mean that when vessels come into our territorial waters we also have a responsibility to rescue and help the ship and its crews if they are in distress


    whats your view on this Ben?

  8. Sprayitos

    ” I know if it was me on board MH 370 I’d rather my family were taken care of.”

    Yeah, but lets not stand in the way of a good facade.

    ” that should also mean that when vessels come into our territorial waters we also have a responsibility to rescue and help the ship and its crews if they are in distress NOT TURN THEM AROUND AND SEND THEM BACK TO INDONESIA”

    I think he’s gotya Ben.

  9. Last Chance Cafe

    This is ridiculous. That airplane is either still flying in the air somewhere or has landed at somewhere.

    That model aircraft is supposed to have 4 emergency beacons which trigger automatically if they detect excessive G-forces or pressure from water. If the plane had crashed would n’t there be a signal?. No signals have been sent indicating a crash. So, no crash?

    Perhaps the author of this article could explain this better.

  10. Yvette Denn

    I can’t help but think the US with its extensive military (active) radar systems and satellite assets has been suspiciously quiet.

    I suspect that the search in the ocean is pointless.

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