Malaysian Airlines Mystery Avoidable with GPS


“GPS technology can be used to know the position of the aircraft even without radar,” said Mike Slack, an aerospace engineer who worked for NASA before becoming a lawyer. “Particularly in that part of the world where you’re going over vast bodies of water, that’s an issue.” Read full story below.

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Plaintiff’s attorney: Malaysian Airlines mystery avoidable with GPS
by Bill Hethcock, Staff Writer, Dallas Business Journal

As the search for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 turns up a promising lead, air disaster attorney Mike Slack says there’s a good chance that the mystery surrounding the flight’s disappearance could have been avoided if the plane had been equipped with GPS tracking.

Flight 370’s transponder reportedly stopped working an hour into the flight, in essence leaving the plane invisible to air traffic control. Flight 370 did not transmit GPS data, although Malaysia Air could have been required to do so because some of the airline’s planes serve cities in the United States, Slack, founding and managing partner of Slack & Davis LLP, told me in a recent meeting.

“Our FAA can require all airplanes to have GPS tracking,” Slack said. “That would have told us exactly where that airplane was at all times.”

The plane vanished March 8 with 239 passengers and crew on board, fading off of radar screens about an hour after it departed for Beijing from the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. Malaysian authorities believe the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean.

“GPS technology can be used to know the position of the aircraft even without radar,” said Slack, an aerospace engineer who worked for NASA before becoming a lawyer. “Particularly in that part of the world where you’re going over vast bodies of water, that’s an issue.”

Meanwhile, the uncertainty surrounding Flight 370’s disappearance prevents family members of the passengers from suing manufacturer Boeing Co. because they have no hard evidence that the plane’s design caused or contributed to the supposed crash, said Slack, who represented one of the plaintiffs against Air France and Airbus after the 2009 disappearance of Air France Flight 447 bound for Paris.

A declaration that the passengers and crew are dead, instead of missing, will clear the way for claims against the airline, Slack said. Finding the wreckage is also important for claims to proceed, Slack said.

In the Air France search, it took search crews nearly two years to find the flight’s cockpit voice recorder and data recorder devices, in large part because of the depth of the ocean where it crashed, Slack said. The Malaysian Airlines search could take longer because better tracking data was available in the Air France crash, he said.

Where the cases are tried will also be a major issue, Slack said. He suspects few, if any, will be tried in the United States. More than half of the passengers were Chinese, 38 were Malaysian and three were American, including Keller, Texas resident Philip Wood, 50, an IBM executive. Austin-based Freescale Semiconductor Inc. had 20 passengers on the flight, 12 from Malaysia and eight from China.

The Montreal Convention, an international treaty that governs compensation for victims of air disasters, requires airlines involved in crashes in which injuries or deaths occur to pay each family the equivalent of about $176,000 in damages as a minimum. Families can sue the airline and the manufacturer of the plane for additional damages.

“The treaty lays out where the case can be tried,” Slack said.

Relatives can sue in the country where the airline is headquartered, in the airline’s main place of business, where the passenger purchased his or her ticket, in the primary residence of the plaintiff or the destination of the flight.

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