Lessons to learn, despite another report on missing flight MH370 and still no explanation


Geoffrey Dell, CQUniversity Australia

The latest report into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 says that investigations have failed to find any explanation as to why the aircraft went missing with 239 passengers and crew on board.

The 449-page main report (with additional appendices) from the Malaysian government builds on previous reports on the investigation into the missing aircraft but admits it is “limited by a significant lack of evidence”.


Read the report: MH370 Safety Investigation Report – Ministry of Transport Malaysia


It’s been four years since the Boeing 777-200ER went missing from its routine flight between Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur and China’s capital Beijing.

The aircraft was later found to have deviated from that flight path, with calculations showing that it probably disappeared somewhere in the Indian Ocean, off the Western Australian coast.

But despite an extensive search led by Australia, and later a private operator search, the report says no main wreckage or bodies of the 227 passengers and 12 crew on board have ever been found.

Some parts identified as confirmed or almost certain to have been from the missing aircraft have been recovered, washed up around the Indian Ocean.

Confirmed and almost certain debris identification wreckage from MH370.
Ministry of Transport Malaysia

The aircraft itself has not been located, and neither the aircraft’s Flight Data Recorder (FDR) nor the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) has been recovered. The only information available to the investigators was from other sources, making triangulation and validation of evidence difficult, if not impossible.




Read more:
The search for MH370 is over: what we learnt and where to now


Who’s to blame?

The report notes that MH370 went missing on March 8, 2014, soon after a routine handover from the Malaysian to Vietnamese air traffic control. Communications with the aircraft were lost less than 40 minutes after takeoff.

Both Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic controllers delayed initiation of emergency procedures once communication could not be established with the aircraft following the crossover from one air space to another. This, the report says, delayed any search-and-rescue response.

Given that the initial search area was north of the Malaysian Peninsula on the aircraft’s intended track, and any information suggesting the aircraft might have flown back over the peninsula didn’t emerge for some time, the initial delays in initiating the search-and-rescue phase may be moot.

The report covers several other issues related to the flight, aircraft maintenance, the crew, the cargo etc, but its conclusion ends with the line:

…the (Investigation) Team is unable to determine the real cause for the disappearance of MH370.

Still a mystery

Clearly, someone or something was responsible for the loss of the aircraft, passengers and crew. But without evidence from the flight recorders it’s unlikely that any of the many theories as to the cause will be proven.

The report suggests that from the available information and simulations, the aircraft was manually turned off the planned track, suggesting an intent on behalf of whoever was flying the aircraft. The turning off of the transponders that allow the aircraft to be tracked by civilian radars also suggests intent.

Hence the report goes to some lengths to suggest that unlawful interference with flight MH370 cannot be ruled out.

But extensive background checks of the captain and other crew found absolutely no evidence of anything other than a dedicated, professional team who set off to do their job as they had done many many times before.

So the causes of the tragedy are likely to remain conjecture for some considerable time, unless new evidence comes to light.

No closure for the families

Clearly the families of those who perished onboard MH370 will not gain much closure from this report. It contains very few answers for them.

But it needs to be said that the air safety investigators need data from multiple sources to try to establish with a reasonable degree of certainty the causes of crashes.

Aviation is a very complex socio-technical system that requires reliable analytics to fully understand the system interactions and deviations. Yet without the recorded flight data and no access to the wreckage, the ability to find cause is critically hampered.

Lessons learned (and to learn)

Since the loss of MH370 there has been a global push to improve tracking of airline aircraft. Clearly the travelling public want air traffic control authorities to know where all the aircraft are all of the time, without fail and without the capacity for anyone to turn the tracking system off.

Many in aviation would like that ideal world too. But the current tracking systems don’t have that capacity. The amount of data that would entail is well beyond the capacity of the present systems, and the cost of upgrading the systems to cope with that would be exorbitant.

For example, the current satellite constellation would need to be expanded or significantly enhanced. So, there has to be a compromise.

As the report suggests, it’s likely that improvements to the system will result in airborne aircraft “handshaking” with the tracking system every 15 minutes with GPS position, altitude, heading and speed data.

This should significantly improve the probability of finding an aircraft lost, but it will not guarantee a lost aircraft’s location will be known.

For example, if the aircraft is cruising at 350 knots (about 650kph) when it makes its last handshake with the tracking system, in 15 minutes it could be anywhere in a search area with around a 300km diameter, still representing a significant search conundrum.

Changes in emergency locator beacon capability are also arising from the MH370 experience. The problems with underwater signal acoustics will remain problematic. So design changes in future will likely see beacons that have the capability to detach and float to the surface if an aircraft crashes into water.

From the perspective of the families and from the basis of needing to understand the real lessons from MH370, ideally the search for the aircraft should continue.

The ConversationBut the real challenge is where to look. Without new data to inform a new search effort, the only thing really known is the aircraft is most likely in the Indian Ocean somewhere. That’s the message from the wreckage that has washed ashore.

Geoffrey Dell, Associate Professor/Discipline Leader Accident Investigation and Forensics, CQUniversity Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Missing evidence base for big calls on infrastructure costs us all


Hugh Batrouney, Grattan Institute

When the case for big transport projects is made without due analysis, we risk building the wrong projects. The result is we waste billions of dollars and rob ourselves of the infrastructure our booming cities need to be more liveable. Given how fast our big cities are growing, we simply can’t afford to make decisions based on limited or misleading information. Yet this keeps happening.

Two stark examples – proposed rail links to Western Sydney and Melbourne airports and road congestion charges – illustrate the problem in different ways.

The proposed airport rail links show how governments continue to make huge taxpayer commitments to projects before they are able to articulate the costs, benefits and risks.

In the case of proposed road congestion charges we see an important reform languishing. This is because when reforms rest on obscure or unclear analysis they inevitably fail to generate public support.


Read more: Western Sydney Aerotropolis won’t build itself – a lot is riding on what governments do
Airport rail link can open up new possibilities for the rest of Melbourne


Funding pledges don’t wait for a business case

In the case of the recently announced multi-billion-dollar investments in airport rail in Western Sydney and Melbourne, neither project has a business case. Yet politicians on both sides tripped over themselves in committing to building them.

There are good reasons to be wary of their eagerness. A government study released this year stated that Western Sydney airport rail wouldn’t be needed to cater for customers and workers at the airport until 2036 at the earliest. Without a business case, we have no way to understand the grounds on which the government still believes this project represents value for money.




Read more:
Flying into uncertainty: Western Sydney’s ‘aerotropolis’ poses more questions than answers


In the case of Melbourne airport rail, the project’s route hasn’t been resolved, let alone its costs, ticket pricing structure, or potential benefits. Infrastructure Australia’s most recent priority list did not include a proponent for the project.

And Infrastructure Victoria says upgrading airport bus services should be investigated first. This is because, at A$50-100 million, bus services would be a much cheaper way to tackle the same problem. It has also said the rail line should be delivered – but not for at least 15 years.




Read more:
Melbourne Airport is going to be as busy as Heathrow, so why the argument about one train line?


Touting estimated benefits without showing calculations

The second example of Australia’s transport planning information deficit is different but still damaging. It concerns the way infrastructure experts encourage governments to make worthwhile but politically challenging reforms to how we use existing infrastructure. The idea is to get more value from the assets we already have.

Infrastructure Australia advocates a road congestion tax. This would replace annual registration fees and petrol taxes with a scheme that charges motorists more when they travel in congested places at congested times.

It’s a very good idea. Indeed, a Grattan Institute report last year recommended governments think seriously about road congestion charges for Sydney and Melbourne. But the way Infrastructure Australia has mounted the case leaves a lot to be desired.




Read more:
Delay in changing direction on how we tax drivers will cost us all


Last month, Infrastructure Australia released estimates of the benefits, prepared with PwC, of a scheme to charge motorists more precisely according to the location, time and distances they travel. According to these estimates, in just over a decade, Australia’s GDP would be A$21 billion larger every year – and this would increase to A$36.5 billion a year by 2047.

The problem is that Infrastructure Australia provides little information about how these enormous numbers were calculated. In a flawless example of circular reasoning, IA refers to analysis done by PwC. PwC in turn notes that the estimates were “collaboratively developed by IA and PwC”.

The calculations do not appear to have included the costs of implementing and running such a scheme. And we have been told nothing about how this grand plan might work in practice.

Converting reductions in travel times to increases in GDP

The most commonly cited estimates of the “avoidable costs” of congestion in Australia come from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics. In 2015, BITRE estimated the annual costs for Australia’s eight capitals totalled about A$16.5 billion. This was forecast to rise to about A$30 billion by 2030.

Such estimates have been important in highlighting the fact that congestion is not just aggravating but costly. But such estimates are, as BITRE itself states, “very blunt instruments for estimating and projecting congestion occurrence”.

It is difficult to precisely convert estimates of avoidable congestion costs into changes in GDP, of course. But the new Infrastructure Australia estimates do not even follow some simple, but important, rules of modelling.

First, they don’t make it easy for readers to see the basis for the assumptions used. Second, they don’t appear to have factored in costs as well as benefits. And third, in a situation where significant uncertainty surrounds the estimates, they haven’t published a range for the estimated impacts.

Getting transport projects right is critically important in cities that are already under pressure. Yet too many big infrastructure calls in Australia are based on misleading information or wafer-thin evidence. We need to do better.


The Conversation


Read more:
Budget policy check: do we need ribbon-cutting infrastructure for jobs and growth?


Hugh Batrouney, Transport Fellow, Grattan Institute

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What was missing in Australia’s $1.9 billion infrastructure announcement


Virginia Barbour, Queensland University of Technology

When we think about infrastructure it’s most often about bridges or roads – or, as in this week’s federal government AU$1.9 billion National Research Infrastructure announcement, big science projects. These are large assets that can be seen and applied in a tangible way.

It’s not hard to get excited over money that will support imaging of the Earth, or the Atlas of Living Australia.

But important as these projects are, there’s a whole set of infrastructure that rarely gets mentioned or noticed: “soft” infrastructure. These are the services, policies or practices that keep academic research working and, now, open.

Soft infrastructure was not featured in this week’s announcement linked to budget 2018.




Read more:
Budget 2018: when scientists make their case effectively, politicians listen


Ignored infrastructure

An absence of attention paid to soft infrastructure isn’t just the case in Australia, it’s true globally. This is despite the fact that such infrastructure is core to running the hard infrastructure projects.

For example, the Open SSL software library – which is key to the security of most websites – has just a handful of paid individuals who work on it. It’s supported by fragile finances. That’s a pretty frightening thought. (There’s another issue in that researchers doing this work get no academic credit for their efforts, but that’s a topic for another time.)

There are other high profile, globally used, open science infrastructures that also exist hand to mouth. The Directory of Open Access journals which began at Lund University relies entirely on voluntary donations from supporting members and on occasional sponsorship.

Similarly, Sherpa Romeo – the open database of publishers’ policies on copyright and self-archiving – came out of projects at Nottingham and Loughborough Universities in the UK.

In some ways these projects’ high visibility is part of their problem. It’s assumed that they are already funded, so no-one takes responsibility for funding them themselves – the dilemma of collective action.




Read more:
Not just available, but also useful: we must keep pushing to improve open access to research


Supporting open science

Other even more nebulous types of soft infrastructure include the development and oversight of standards that support open science. One example of this is the need to ensure that the metadata (the essential descriptors that tell you for example where a sample that’s collected for research came from and when, or how it relates to a wider research project or publication) are consistent. Without consistency of metadata, searching for research, making it openly available or linking it together is much less efficient, if not impossible.

Of course there are practices in place at individual institutions as well as national organisations. The soon-to-be-combined organisations -Australian National Data Service, the National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources project and Research Data Services (ANDS-Nectar-RDS) – are supported by national infrastructure funding. These provide support for data-heavy research (including for example the adoption of FAIR – Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable standards for data).

But without coherent national funding and coordination, specifically for open science initiatives, we won’t get full value from the physical infrastructure just funded.




Read more:
How the insights of the Large Hadron Collider are being made open to everyone


What we need

What’s needed now? First, a specific recognition of the need for cash to support this open, soft infrastructure. There are a couple of models for this.

In an article last year it was suggested that libraries (but this could equally be funders – public or philanthropic) should be committing around 2.5% of their budget to support open initiatives. There are some international initiatives that are developing specific funding models – SCOSS for Open Science Services and NumFocus for software.

But funding on its own is not enough: we need a coordinated national approach to open scholarship – making research available for all to access through structures and tools that are themselves open and not proprietary.

Though there are groups that are actively pushing forward initiatives on open scholarship in Australia – such as the Australasian Open Access Strategy Group, the Council of Australian University Librarians, and the Learned Academies as well as the ARC and NHMRC who have open access policies – there is no one organisation with the responsibility to drive change across the sector. The end result is inadequate key infrastructure – for example, for interoperability between research output repositories.

We also need coherent policy. The government recognised a need for national and states policies on open access in its response to the 2016 Productivity Commission Inquiry on Intellectual Property, but as yet no policy has appeared.




Read more:
Universities spend millions on accessing results of publicly funded research


It’s reasonable to ask whether in the absence of a national body that’s responsible for developing and implementing an overall approach, what the success of a policy on its own would be. Again, there are international models that could be used.

Sweden has a Government Directive on Open Access, and a National Body for Coordinating Open Access chaired by the Vice-chancellor of Stockholm University.

The Netherlands has a National Plan for Open Science with wide engagement, supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. In that country, the Secretary of State, Sander Dekker, has been a key champion.

The EU has had a long commitment to open science, underscored recently by the appointment of a high-level envoy with specific responsibility for open science, Robert-Jan Smits.

Private interests might take over

Here’s the bottom line: national coordinated support for the soft infrastructure that supports open science (and thus the big tangible infrastructure projects announced) is not just a “nice to have”.

One way or another, this soft infrastructure will get built and adopted. If it’s not done in the national interest, for-profit companies will step into the vacuum.

We risk replicating the same issues we have now in academic publishing – which is in the hands of multi-billion dollar companies that report to their shareholders, not the public. It’s clear how well that is turning out – publishers and universities globally are in stand offs over the cost of publishing services, which continue to rise inexorably, year on year.


The Conversation


Read more:
Publisher pushback puts open access in peril


Virginia Barbour, Director, Australasian Open Access Strategy Group, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Nepal Christians Begin Legal Battle for Burial Ground


Hindu group declares country a Hindu state; upper castes seek halt to conversions.

KATHMANDU, Nepal, April 19 (CDN) — With the government refusing to listen to their three-year plea for an official cemetery and ignoring a protracted hunger strike, Nepal’s Christians are now seeking redress from the Supreme Court.

“Every day there are two to three deaths in the community, and with each death we face a hard time with the burial,” said Chari Bahadur Gahatraj, a pastor who filed a petition in the high court on March 13 asking it to intervene as authorities of Nepal’s oldest Hindu temple had begun demolishing the graves of Christians there.

Gahatraj and Man Bahadur Khatri are both members of the newly formed Christian Burial Ground Prayer and National Struggle Committee that since last month began leading a relay hunger strike in a public area of the capital, asking for a graveyard. They said they were forced to go to court after the Pashupati Area Development Trust (PADT), which runs Nepal’s oldest Hindu shrine, the Pashupatinath temple, said it would no longer allow non-Hindus to use the temple’s forested land.

“We don’t want to hurt the sentiments of any community,” Gahatraj told Compass. “Nor are we trying to grab the land owned by a temple. We are ready to accept any plot given to us. All we are asking for is that the burials be allowed till we get an alternate site.”

Judge Awadhesh Kumar Yadav has since ordered the government and PADT not to prevent Christians from using the forest for burials until the dispute is resolved. The legal battle, however, now involves a counter-suit. Hindu activist Bharat Jangam filed a second writ on March 20, saying that since the forest was the property of a Hindu temple, non-Hindus should not be allowed to bury their dead there just as churches do not allow Hindu burials.

Subsequently, the court decided to hear the two petitions together, and yesterday (April 18), the hearings began. While two lawyers argued on behalf of Gahatraj and Khatri, a cohort of 15 lawyers spoke against their petition. The next hearing is scheduled for May 3.

Along with the legal battle, Christians have kept up their relay hunger strike. To step up pressure on the government, the protestors also announced they would lead a funeral march to the offices of the prime minister and the culture minister and hand over coffins to them as a symbolic protest. If that too failed, they warned they would have no option but to go on hunger strike in front of the prime minister’s office and parliament, this time carrying dead bodies with them.

Alarmed at the rate the issue was snowballing, the government finally responded. Yesterday Culture Minister Gangalal Tuladhar opened talks with the protestors, agreeing to continue the negotiations after three days. The government also formed a four-member committee to look into the demand. Currently, Christians are asking for cemetery land in all 75 districts of Nepal.

Protestors were wary of the government’s intent in the overture.

“This could be a ploy to buy time and bury the issue,” said a member of the Christian committee formed to advise parliament on drafting the new constitution, who requested anonymity.

Though the committee formed to look into the Christians’ demand for burial land has been asked to present a report within two weeks, Christians suspect the panel is dragging its feet.

“The new constitution has to be promulgated by May 28, but it does not seem likely that the main political parties will be able to accomplish the task,” the Christian committee member said. “And if the constitution doesn’t materialize in time, there will be a crisis and our problem will be shelved.”

 

Hindu Nation

Adding to their unease, Christians are now facing a redoubled campaign by Hindu groups for the restoration of Hinduism as the state religion, five years after parliament declared Nepal, the world’s only Hindu kingdom, secular.

If the new constitution had been promulgated last year, it would have consolidated secularism in Nepal. But with the country missing the deadline due to protracted power-sharing rows among the major political parties, Christians still feel under threat.

On Thursday (April 14), when the country celebrated the start of the indigenous new year 2068 with a public holiday, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal, which seeks the reinstatement of Hinduism as the state religion, kicked off a campaign at the Bhadrakali temple in Kathmandu. As curious onlookers and soldiers patrolling the nearby army headquarters looked on, party members fervently blew into conch shells and rang bells to draw people’s attention to their demand.

The party, which is also seeking the restoration of monarchy, took some oblique shots at the Christian community as well.

“There is a deliberate and systematic attempt by organizations to convert Hindus,” said Kamal Thapa, party chief and a former minister. “These organizations are guided by foreign powers and foreign funds. If the widespread conversion of Hindus is not stopped immediately, we will have to take stern measures.”

Three days later, an umbrella of Hindu groups – the Rastriya Dharma Jagaran Mahasabha (the National Religion Resurrection Conference) held a massive gathering in the capital, declaring Nepal a “Hindu state” and meeting with no official objection. The proclamation came as the climax to a three-day public program calling for the restoration of “the traditional Hindu state.” Several Hindu preachers and scholars from neighboring India attended the program, held on the grounds of the Pashupatinath temple, which is also a UNESCO-declared World Heritage Site.

The “Hindu state” proclamation was the brainchild of Shankar Prasad Pandey, a former member of parliament from Nepali Congress, the second largest party in Nepal, now in opposition. Though Pandey was a sitting Member of Parliament in 2006, when the body unanimously declared Nepal secular, he began opposing the move soon afterwards, leading four campaigns against it nationwide.

“I consider the nation and the Hindu religion to be more important than the party,” said Pandey, known as the MP who began to go barefoot 32 years ago to show solidarity with Nepalese, who are among the poorest in the world. “Over 90 percent of the Nepalese want Nepal to be a Hindu state. However, the government is led by people whose only concern is power and money.”

Pandey’s campaign is supported by Hindu groups from India and the West: Narendranath Saraswati, who is the Shankaracharya or religious head of a prominent Hindu shrine in India’s Varanasi city; Dr. Tilak Chaitanya, chief of a group in the United Kingdom that propagates the Gita, the holy book of the Hindus; and Tahal Kishore, head of a Hindu organization, Radha Krishna Sevashram, in the United States.

Two weeks before the May 28 deadline for the new constitution, Pandey and his followers plan to step up the campaign for a “Hindu state” in the capital. Though Pandey denies it could stir up animosity between the majority-Hindus and Christians – whose minority population is said to have crossed 2 million but is actually only 850,801, according to Operation World – there are fears of religious tension if not outright violence.

The Hindu rallies continue to grow as a pressure tactic. Yesterday (April 18), members of Nepal Brahman Samaj, an organization of “upper castes” from whose echelons temple priests are appointed, fought with security forces in front of parliament house, demanding their rights be respected and an end to conversions.

More Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) campaigning is scheduled on April 29, when the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal’s Thapa has called for a mass gathering in the capital.  

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org