My post on Forbes.com last week suggesting the number of clues on the ground that could shed light on what happened to Malaysia Flight 370, generated much interest but particularly the suggestion that a new independent group be selected to give a fresh eyes view to the case. This idea came from Peter Fiegehen, an air traffic control specialist from Australia who also worked with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. Peter suggests a small team not previously connected to the investigation could be effective.
The problem is that ICAO Annex 13 which provides guidance to air safety authorities can be interpreted in such a way that it excludes outsiders. “States shall” investigate, the document states. But states can also “delegate“. The ICAO Annex is a compilation of standards and recommended practices. They are not cast in stone. The air accident investigation document is nearly always in a state of revision including one that goes into effect later this year.
In addition, countries are free to file their own exceptions from the ICAO standards. For example the United States makes public the transcripts of cockpit voice recorders which until the latest amendment, were not to be disclosed outside of the investigation.
What is encouraging about the revision of Annex 13 is the recognition that things change and never more so than now with the digitization of the air transport system. Where international aviation authorities need to be faster on the uptake is in appreciating the value of crowd sourcing of information following air accidents. More people from technical specialists to intelligent onlookers have the means to contribute and that is a good thing. The established tin-kickers must not be threatened. Their own expertise is not diminished because outsiders can sometimes offer value.
Every year I attend the meeting of the International Society of Air Safety Investigators I am both impressed and frustrated by what is the two sides of the same coin. The specialists are knowledgeable in their specific areas which is good but closed-minded to the point of dismissive of the contributions of outsiders, which is not good.
Peter Fiegehen recognizes that “group-think, peer or other pressure” and “false hypothesis factors” now infect the official investigation into the mysterious disappearance of MH370. His idea of hitting the reset button is worth consideration. If an agency as cumbersome and bureaucratic as the UN’s ICAO sees the benefit of regular revision, what excuse is there for the resistance of agencies investigating one specific accident?
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