Preventing Disasters: Failure Modes and Malaysia Flight 370

Doug Plucknette and Allied Reliability Group take the tragedy of Malaysia flight 370 very seriously and our thoughts and prayers go out to all of the families of the passengers.  We use Malaysia Flight 370 as an example for educational sake solely in the hopes of preventing future mechanical and electrical failures in machinery that could threaten the lives of others.

When it comes down to it, I guess Reliability Engineers aren’t very interesting. 

I’m making this assumption, because I have not seen a single reliability engineer interviewed on any of the round-the-clock news programming dedicated to flight 370. We have seen, former Pilots, control tower workers, former FAA Executives, friends and relatives of the missing and of course dozens of different talking heads from the news organizations themselves but no Reliability Engineers.

How would a Reliability Engineer Investigate Flight 370?

I keep wondering why wouldn’t a news organization want to talk with someone like a reliability engineer?  Airline Reliability Engineers would have been involved with:

  • the discovery and mitigation of nearly every component on an aircraft,
  • and not just this aircraft, every make model and generation.
  • If you want to know all of the Failure Modes (Failure Mode is the manor of failure, circumstances or sequence of events that lead to Functional Failure) of a transponder, talk to a Reliability Engineer and he or she will spend the next hour or so going through the list of ways it can fail on its own.

malaysia airlines rcm, malaysia airlines reliability centered maintenance, malaysia airlines failure modesBreaking Down the Failure Modes for Flight 370:

When you are done with that segment, a reliability engineer would take you through another list of failures where the transponder might fail as a result of secondary damage from other failure modes.  The Reliability Engineer would tell you that these failures are more complex and less likely than the first list we addressed but until we have facts these failures can’t be ruled out.

He or she would then go on to discuss the other possible Failure Modes where the flight crew might be directed to disable or isolate specific parts of the aircraft’s controls as a mitigating strategy to reduce the effects/consequences of a failure in order to protect the aircraft, passengers and crew from catastrophic damage.

Again stating that while all the failure modes we have discussed are possible, we all need to understand that until we have some facts we are simply speculating.  He or she might also add that while the safety and reliability of the commercial airline industry has continuously improved over the last 5 consecutive decades and that the probability of each of these failures is very low.  We need to also keep in mind however that while highly unlikely the effects and consequences do so far match the facts we have been presented with to date.

Why aren’t we hearing from Reliability Engineers…?

I guess the problem with the Reliability Engineer is they want to keep talking about facts.   Facts aren’t exciting, it’s far more sensational to speculate, talk about conspiracies, point fingers at people and governments and of course show the families of the missing in the various stages of grief.  Tears, pain, and anger, people whose lives have been shattered by this tragic event.

Raw emotions and speculation sell.  Facts are boring and Reliability Engineers are the Joe Friday’s of the aviation industry, they only want to deal with facts.

The sad thing is 239 people are missing and 15 days later those who are really interested in what happened (Friends and Family of those missing and us Reliability Engineering Geeks) know little more about the facts today than they did 15 days ago.  The 24 hour coverage of this event has been for me an all-time low when it comes to valuing sensationalism over facts and right now to the friends of 239 people who are missing some facts would be far more comforting than rumor and speculation.

I just turned off the news; I’m waiting for some facts.



4 Responses to Malaysia Airlines – When Do We Hear About the Failure Modes?

  1. Arnie Newland says:

    I have been waiting for your comment on the lack of any application of failure mode analysis and indeed the shortage of any fact. You are spot on in that sensationalism trumps facts when it comes to the news media. It boggles the mind how CNN can fill daily air space for 2 weeks with very few known facts. I’m tired of hearing experts repeat their own “theories”…most contradictory…and pure speculation.
    Doug you need to contact CNN and lead them through a FMEA to bring some sense to this mystery.
    Good luck!

  2. Hi Mr.Plucknette,

    Clear is that Boeing has all the FMECA (MSG-3 for maintenance procedures?) studies done during the design phase of this aircraft. Don’t you think the information regarding failure modes have been taken into account on the investigation? It’s very difficult for me to accept that whoever lead the investigation has not had used those information.

  3. Private says:

    Excellent !!

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