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MH370 sparks call to rethink 'accident' definition

Australian officials are seeking to change the formal definition of an aircraft accident to clarify uncertainties thrown up by the case of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

In a paper to this week’s ICAO high-level safety conference in Montreal, representatives want clearer guidance over the status of a missing aircraft as well as the transition between search operations for survivors and those for crash investigation purposes.

No trace of MH370 has been found since the Boeing 777 vanished on 8 March last year.

Under Annex 13 to the Chicago Convention the disappearance of an aircraft is classified as an accident when the official search has ended and the wreckage has not been located.

But the continuing investigative search for the MH370 crash site has created uncertainty about whether – for the purpose of Annex 13 protocols – the aircraft can be formally declared missing, and therefore having suffered an accident.

Malaysia’s government recently classified the loss of MH370 as an accident, noting the apparent track of the 777 to the southern Indian Ocean and the improbability of survival in this remote region.

But the Australian paper to the ICAO conference seeks an amendment to the definition of ‘accident’ to resolve the problems of a formal status declaration in the event of an ongoing search.

This “would assist” countries to understand when the requirements of Annex 13 would apply, the paper says.

It points out that, during the hunt for MH370, the Australian operation transitioned from search-and-rescue to search-and-recovery, around the end of April 2014.

But the paper says there was “no clear guidance” as to whether the continuing effort was the responsibility of the Australian rescue co-ordination centre or the Malaysian accident investigation authority.

“There is a high likelihood of problems arising in the continuity of a search that extends beyond the rescue phase,” it says, adding that countries could benefit from standards that provide a framework for co-operation and assist with the allocation of resources.

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