There are 634 runways where Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 could have landed; 4 airports deserve careful scrutiny

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has now been missing for 10 days. Ten days without a physical trace. The last evidence of the flight was a “data ping” – an electronic connection or “handshake” made by a satellite more than 7 hours after takeoff. A summary of events to date is here.

Malaysian officials no longer consider the disappearance of the flight to be an accident, but a deliberate diversion. In addition to the needle-in-a-football-field ocean search, the possibility of a ground landing somewhere is now being considered. Within the arc of the area where it is believed the plane could have flown, it has been estimated that there are 634 airports that met the length requirements for a Boeing 777 to land. Three of those airports may warrant some closer examination, along with a 4th that is outside the area currently being searched.

There are 4 airports outside of Malaysia that have close connections to Malaysia Airlines. Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) is a Malaysian airport company that manages most of the airports in Malaysia, and recently began to manage airports in international destinations. They have partnered in varying ways on the development and management of these airports with GMR Group , an infrastructural company based in India that has interests in the areas of Airports, Energy, Highways and Urban Infrastructure.

MAHB currently manages 3 international airports outside Malaysia. They are:

  • Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, India
  • Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad, India
  • Sabiha Gökçen International Airport in Istanbul, Turkey

They had managed a fourth airport, Ibrahim Nasir International Airport on the island of Malé in the Republic of Maldives, approximately 600 km (211 mi) southwest of the southern tip of India, in partnership with GMR. The Maldives government unilaterally canceled the contract in late 2012 amid charges of corruption and irregularities in the bidding process; an investigation ruled out corruption but the contract was still terminated for being “against the law of the land” and is unlikely to be reversed. A lawsuit by GMR seeking $1.4 billion in compensation for “wrongful termination” is pending.

It would seem reasonable to start any search or inquiry at these 4 airports with ties to Malaysia.

Even though the potential area under investigation has been widened, it hasn’t yet been expanded to include Istanbul. But according to specifications for the Boeing, the flight is in fact possible.

A Boeing 777-200ER with a Rolls Royce engine, fully fueled and loaded to maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) would weigh 297,550 kg (656,000 lb) and could travel 7,665 nautical miles (8,821 mi). There were 239 passengers and crew aboard; the maximum number is 301. Even assuming 200 lbs per person (weight and luggage), that is less than 50,000 lbs, so the weight of the cargo would be by far the primary determinant of how far the plane could fly. Less cargo means more distance. But it doesn’t matter: Istanbul is about 11,500 km (7,146 mi) from Kuala Lumpur. Assuming the plane was fully fueled, it could have made it there easily.

Transversing borders without detection, on the other hand, would seem to be difficult. However, if a plane were flying at altitude along a recognized flight path, and did not appear hostile, there would be no reason for the military to intervene. All that would be needed to complete the flight is a contact inside Air Traffic Control, along with people on the ground who were involved with the plan.

Given that the transponders and communications systems appear to have been systematically dismantled, and given that in spite of that some data, albeit limited, was collected by a satellite over 7 hours after takeoff, it seems extremely unlikely that the plane is underwater. It is time to start thinking about what was so valuable, either about the plane or inside the plane, that would cause someone or some group of people to develop and execute such a bold and sophisticated plan.

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