While there is much speculation about the cause of the Ukrainian airliner that crashed after take-off from Tehran’s airport this week, killing all 176 people on board, there is presently very little factual information to go on.
Western intelligence has indicated a surface-to-air missile likely hit the plane in what may have been an “unintentional” act – an assertion Iran quickly dismissed.
As with any other crash, the world aviation community needs to know what caused this one in the interest of ongoing flight safety.
Political tensions between Iran and the US may make the investigation more challenging, but they should not prevent a thorough systematic analysis from occurring and the cause of the crash to ultimately be established.
The flight recorders hold the key to establishing what actually happened and why. And here’s where the political tensions are most problematic – Iran initially said it would not hand over the black boxes to the manufacturer of the aircraft, Boeing, or the US.
But new reports say Iran has now invited the US National Transportation Safety Board and Boeing to take part in the investigation.
Under the International Civil Aviation Organisation Annex 13 convention, the US has the right to appoint an adviser to the investigation, as does the aircraft manufacturer. The convention presumes a level of cooperation between all parties involved in crash investigations, which could prove difficult in this case. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a proper investigation won’t or can’t be conducted.
Responsibility for the investigation sits with the Iranians, but under the UN Civil Aviation Conventions, they can request assistance from any other country, if they don’t have the capacity to conduct it themselves.
There are many other countries with the necessary expertise to assist, including recovering flight data from recorders with very significant damage. France, Canada, UK, the Netherlands, Germany and Australia could all help, for example.
Other countries can only step in, however, if invited by Iran or if Iran chooses not to conduct the investigation.
What’s most important is that whoever leads the investigation must have access to all the information – the wreckage itself, flight data, radar data, maintenance records, crew data, flight plans, load sheets, and passenger and cargo manifests. Otherwise, the wrong conclusions can be reached.
There also needs to be a parallel field investigation analysing the wreckage.
First, investigators should be ensuring they have accounted for all the wreckage. If some parts separated from the aircraft in-flight, they may be found some distance from the main wreckage site and may hold key clues that could lead to a better understanding of the cause of the crash.
As such, the terrain under the flight path needs to be surveyed carefully to locate all items from the aircraft.
Clearly, it will also be important to examine the wreckage of the engines for any evidence of pre-crash damage.
For example, if a fire had been burning inside the engine cowling, there may be evidence of scorching. Analysis of the internal engine components should also make clear whether the engines were still delivering power when the plane made impact with the ground or if there was a pre-crash structural or component failure.
Investigators should also look at the wing and fuselage surfaces next to the engines for any pre-impact damage. If an engine failure occurred, there may be evidence of impact damage from engine components after they burst out of the armoured casing.
Analysing the aircraft engines, wing and fuselage surfaces may also provide evidence if the aircraft was struck by a missile.
This was the case with Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was shot down over Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people aboard. There was clear evidence of the aircraft structures being penetrated from outside the plane by high-speed particles.
Similar forensic analysis can be conducted on the remnants of the Boeing 737 in Iran, even if a high degree of fragmentation occurred in the crash. This should reveal the truth if a missile was responsible.
Of course, it would be usual for the aircraft manufacturer to be involved. After all, it knows more about the technologies involved in building and operating the aircraft than anyone else.
That said, there are many global agencies that also know a lot about the engineering and operation of the B737-800 plane, such as the airworthiness authorities in other countries, who could be called upon to participate.
No doubt, Ukraine will be heavily involved, as will Canada, due to the number of Canadians who lost their lives in the crash. So, if Boeing was excluded from the investigation, it might be a set-back, but not a show-stopper.
Boeing is, however, responsible for assuring the ongoing safety standards for the global B737 fleet, so whether it is directly involved in the investigation or not, it is imperative the reasons for the crash are shared with global aviation agencies, the manufacturer and all other airlines.
It is worth reflecting in these sad occasions that the purpose of a crash investigation is to prevent future incidents. Unless the actual cause of this crash is understood, any possible problems in the global flight safety system may go unrectified, making the risk of future crashes higher than it otherwise would be.
The impact of the crash on the families of the victims is also immense and immeasurable. This is another reason why a proper, thorough and systematic investigation is so important. It ensures those who have tragically lost their lives, and their families and friends, will not have suffered in vain.
State elections are always about spending promises, but this time not much is being said about how they will be funded.
Last minute costings on individual announcements tend to rely on the general presumption that the state economy will keep growing and somehow produce the needed revenue.
This is evident in the costings released by the NSW Parliamentary Budget Office, which show that new spending promises from both major parties exceed new revenue promises.
The Labor Party has managed to find some new revenue through increased taxes on luxury cars, boats and vacant properties, while the Coalition has unveiled no new revenue initiatives at all.
While the property market has been climbing this needn’t have mattered that much. But for the past 20 months Sydney prices have been falling. Projected stamp duty revenues are being repeatedly revised downwards. The latest wipes A$9.5 billion off what was expected at the time of the 2017 budget.
NSW state revenue by type, A$ billion
It’s looking as if the incoming NSW government will need to moderate spending including spending on essential services and infrastructure, but there might be a way out.
Today, we published a new report for the Sydney Policy Lab outlining two ways in which the NSW government can ready its budget for a post-housing boom economy.
Politicians of all parties tell us that fiscal rules create binding constraints for state governments and they are right.
But there are imaginative ways to strengthen state finances and to interpret those constraints.
Although land used for holiday homes and rental properties faces land tax, land used for owner-occupied housing is exempt in NSW, meaning as much as A$1 trillion of land is exempt.
It is a source of wealth – one of the few covered by state tax powers – that the budget can no longer afford to ignore.
Extending NSW land tax to owner-occupied residences with safeguards could fund much of the state’s needed service and infrastructure spending and wind back the outsized reliance on stamp duty.
With so many people locked out of home ownership altogether, it would make the tax system fairer.
Under NSW budget rules spending on services is defined as cost that needs to be matched by immediate revenue. Spending on infrastructure, often on infrastructure which will later be privatised, is defined as an investment, meaning it doens’t have to be matched by immediate revenue.
It is why there is talk about a squeeze on services in the midst of record spending on infrastructure.
There’s room to change those definitions.
While there are good macroeconomic and budgetary reasons to differentiate day to day spending from investments, much of what is defined as day to day spending is in fact an investment.
There’s no reason why the state’s power to borrow to invest in infrastructure couldn’t also be used to invest in public services like health and education. With a change of rules, governments could borrow to invest in nurses and teachers at interest rates currently reserved for toll roads.
A practical starting point would be to connect spending on public services to the savings they create in other parts of the state budget, and account for this as the return on the investment.
As an example, “justice reinvestment” could fund programs aimed at reducing Indigenous incarceration out of the savings those programs would eventually deliver in other areas.
The redefinition would remove the present bias towards programs that build only physical infrastructure that has to be paid for later with tolls or privatisations.
Both ideas could help whichever party or parties form government after Saturday’s election, and help NSW. Without them, budgeting will become more difficult.
With investigations under way into two crashes of Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 aircraft, the US manufacturer has caved to pressure and grounded the entire global fleet totalling 371 planes. That includes both model 8 and 9 versions of the aircraft.
The company issued a statement saying this occurred:
… out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft’s safety.
But the impact on passengers and air travel could last for months as airlines try to reschedule flights and seek other aircraft to meet demands. While things are still evolving, what should you anticipate as a traveller?
While it is legitimate for a government to issue regulatory orders to intervene in an airline’s operation due to safety or security concerns, it is unprecedented that such a large number of countries are taking action.
At least 45 International Civil Aviation Organisation member states had already either ordered their airlines to ground 737 MAX aircraft, or suspended entry of such planes into enter their airspaces.
Countries affected include China, Indonesia, Germany, UK, France, the Netherlands, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and now the US.
While investigations into the two crashes could last for months or even years before any conclusion is drawn, the length of suspension is also unknown at this stage.
Yet holiday seasons such as Easter and school vacations are approaching, and many of us will no doubt be looking to fly away for a break.
Airlines face disruption almost every day: airline operation is a complex system. Disruption can be caused by unforeseeable weather conditions, unexpected technical or mechanical issues of an aircraft, or associated safety hazards or security concerns.
Airlines therefore have strategies in place to manage or at least mitigate the effect of the disruption and reduce any potential delays. This could include but is not limited to:
changing or swapping an aircraft type
combining two or three flights into one operation
arranging alternative flights for travellers
moving travellers to other airlines if their tickets have been issued.
With only 371 Boeing 737 MAX family jets in operation, this is a small percentage of the total of more than 6,000 of the previous model and gives airlines the ability to use other jets in their fleet as a replacement.
But the current suspension will present significant challenges for some airlines.
Subject to their fleet size, the scope of their network, and other resources and capacity available, big airlines with multiple types of aircraft in their fleet are more capable of managing such disruption.
For example, Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, American Airlines and Southwest will have more resources to arrange for travellers to fly to their destinations.
In contrast, low-cost or regional carriers will be limited in their capacity to manage the disruption.
While airlines are making every effort to minimise the disruption, all these arrangements come at a cost.
Airlines might have difficulties in sourcing capacity to replace the aircraft, resulting in inevitable delays or cancellations. And delays and cancellations also result in additional cost to airlines operation.
Boeing and Airbus are a duopoly, said to dominate 99% of the global large aircraft orders, which make up more than 90% of the total aircraft market.
Over the past few decades, Boeing has weathered problems before and maintained an exceptional reputation for its reliable and efficient aircraft design, manufacturing and service.
Of all the aircraft sales, the Boeing 737 MAX series – designed to replace the current 737 family – was becoming one of the most popular airliners, despite being only introduced to the market in May 2017.
But the two recent crashes have raised concerns about reliability of the 737 MAX 8 autopilot system, the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System.
The aircraft represents a significant change from its predecessor models, including new engines, new avionics and different aerodynamic characteristics.
The risk for Boeing now is the potential consequences flowing from any investigation into the aircraft crashes. These could include:
complete or partial cancellation of orders placed by global airlines yet to be delivered
litigation by the affected airlines and the victims of the ill-fated aircraft, seeking damages caused by any product defect (if proof of any defect could be established)
new opportunities for its rivals to promote their aircraft; this could allow, for example, China’s state-owned aircraft manufacturer, COMAC, to make new waves in the industry.
Regardless, Boeing could face enormous financial losses and devastating economic consequences.
While Boeing surely carries enough insurance coverage for losses, it is inevitable the damage to its brand is more far-reaching in the medium to long term. This will affect the confidence of aircraft operators and the general public.
Even if any technical defects discovered are quick to fix, a damaged brand tends to require more time and much more significant efforts to recover.
Of course there is a question everyone wants answered: is it safe to fly?
The answer is definitely. Statistically speaking, flying on a commercial passenger airliner is the safest mode of transportation.
A recent study of US census data puts the odds of dying as a plane passenger at 1 in 188,364. That compares with odds of 1 in 4,047 for a cyclist, 1 in 1,117 for drowning and 1 in 103 for a car crash.
Globally, 2017 was the safest year in aviation history with no passenger jet crashes recorded.
The most advanced technology used in aircraft design and manufacturing, and in air traffic control management, and the comprehensive, efficient pilot training and management are aimed at a safe flight.
So the decision of Boeing to suspend flights of its 737 MAX aircraft is welcomed, for now. But, pending the findings of the investigations, the questions as to how long the suspension will be in effect and how Boeing will address the issue remain unanswered.