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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Likely Ran Out of Fuel, Report Says

May 27, 2014, 12:11 a.m. ET
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Likely Ran Out of Fuel, Report Says

By Daniel Stacey

SYDNEY--Analysis of the final ping transmission between Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and an Inmarsat PLC satellite found the missing jetliner was likely descending after running out of fuel, according to Australian air-accident investigators.

Investigators remain confident Flight 370 crashed into a remote stretch of the southern Indian Ocean within around 25 nautical miles of the final ping transmission, despite an initial underwater search and lengthy air-and-sea hunt for floating debris failing to find any trace of the plane.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said its conclusion about the plane's likely location relied on calculations of how long it took the plane to descend plus a five nautical mile margin for error in the analysis of the satellite data. The bureau's conclusions--outlined in a series of reports on its website--come as authorities prepare to open up the hunt for the plane to private contractors through a public tender next week.

Flight 370's final digital handshake with the satellite didn't coincide with previous regular hourly transmissions. That is likely due to its electrical systems resetting when the plane ran out of fuel, the ATSB summary said, confirming earlier reports in The Wall Street Journal.

Modeling of fuel burn at various flight paths and aircraft speeds support the idea that Flight 370 ran out of fuel near the final ping arc, it said.

The ATSB also said for the first time that the search area intersects the only air route that passes down through the southeastern Indian Ocean, route M641, which travels from Cocos Island to Perth through four way points.

The overlap of the Cocos-Perth air route and search area may be a coincidence, with investigators still unsure about the plane's navigation during its final hours. Air routes are preprogrammed into flight computers and can be navigated without human intervention, raising the possibility that none of the crew were conscious when the plane crashed.

Authorities are also trying a new approach to help refine the search area: listening to audio captured by special underwater microphones spread across the ocean, which are typically used to monitor signs of illegal nuclear explosions. The microphones have long been deployed as part of the United Nations Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

The Australian naval vessel Ocean Shield is due to give up the search on Wednesday, having scoured a narrow area close to where it detected electronic signals on four occasions in early April. Authorities believed those transmissions were consistent with locator beacons on an aircraft's black box flight recorders, raising hopes of a breakthrough in the hunt for Flight 370, which went missing en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur on March 8 with 239 people on board.

The Ocean Shield's departure will leave the Chinese survey vessel Zhu Kezhen alone in the search area, carrying out early work to map the seabed. The ATSB said it would take up to three months to map the entire area some 1,000 miles northwest of Perth, with an additional ship from a private contractor being deployed in early June to scan the ocean floor at depths of up to 6,000 meters.

The results will enable towed sonar equipment to be deployed without the risk of it banging into undersea ridges and mountains.

Write to Daniel Stacey at daniel.stacey@wsj.com

Copyright ©2014 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Drone Almost Hit Airliner Over Florida in March, FAA Says

Drone Almost Hit Airliner Over Florida in March, FAA Says
By Alan Levin May 10, 2014 12:00 AM ET
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An unmanned aircraft almost struck a US Airways plane over Florida in March, a pilot told theFederal Aviation Administration, highlighting safety concerns as U.S. regulators develop rules for civilian drone use.

The Bombardier Inc. CRJ2 regional jet was about 5 miles from Tallahassee Regional Airport at an altitude of 2,300 feet (701 meters) when it passed by what appeared to be a remote-controlled aircraft, the FAA said in a statement yesterday.

American Airlines Group Inc. (AAL), which includes US Airways, is aware of media reports about the incident and is investigating, Casey Norton, a spokesman, said in an e-mail.

There have been at at least six other incidents since September 2011 in which pilots have reported close calls with what they believed were small unmanned aircraft, according to NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System, which logs safety issues. The FAA doesn’t allow drone flights, other than by hobbyists, unless it has granted a special permit.

The drone in March came so close to the airliner that the pilot “was sure he had collided with it,” saidJames Williams, chief of the FAA’s unmanned aircraft office, said in a speech May 8 at the Small Unmanned Systems Business Exposition in San Francisco. “Thankfully inspection to the airliner after landing found no damage, but this may not always be the case.”

The pilot said it appeared the drone was a high-end model built to look like a fighter jet and powered with a small turbine engine, according to the FAA. Such model planes are capable of reaching higher altitudes than drone copters and may cost thousands of dollars.
Hudson Miracle

The FAA investigated the Tallahassee incident and couldn’t locate the unmanned aircraft or the pilot, according to the statement.

The FAA has said it plans to propose rules by the end of the year governing civilian drones weighing less than 55 pounds (25 kilograms), which have grown in popularity as prices fall and the aircraft become more widely available.

An industry committee assisting the FAA on the rule has proposed these small drones be kept away from airports and populated areas and limited to no higher than 400 feet.

Williams, whose speech was posted to YouTube.com, compared the Florida incident to the Jan. 15, 2009, water landing in the Hudson River of a US Airways Group Inc. aircraft that struck a flock of geese. No one died in the accident known as the “Miracle on the Hudson.”

“Imagine a metal and plastic object, especially that big lithium battery, going into a high-speed turbine engine,” he said. “The results could be catastrophic.”
FBI Investigation

Williams also cited drone accidents, including a small helicopter that struck a woman participating in a triathlon in Australia this year.

The March incident highlights the need for the FAA to move slowly as it develops rules to ensure the safety of unmanned flight, he said. The current rules for pilots and air-traffic controllers preventing mid-air collisions become more difficult when the person flying the plane is on the ground, he said.

The FAA and law enforcement have investigated other cases in which drones got too close to traditional aircraft.

Pilots on an Alitalia SpA Boeing Co. (BA) 777 nearing New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport reported a drone helicopter came within about 200 feet on March 4, 2013. The Federal Bureau of Investigation opened an investigation.

An unidentified airline flight into LaGuardia Airport in New York flew about 500 feet (152 meters) above a small black drone in July 2013, according to an Aviation Safety Reporting Systemreport. The plane’s mid-air collision warning system didn’t alert them to the danger, the pilot reported. The other five incidents reported to NASA involved private aircraft.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Levin in Washington at alevin24@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.netRomaine Bostick

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