air crashes

Nov 8, 2014

MH370: Boeing needs to explain neglect of 777 security flaw

The unsecured electrical and electronics bay located under the floor and behind the cockpit of the Boeing 777-200ER that performed vanished Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is again in th

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

The unsecured electrical and electronics bay located under the floor and behind the cockpit of the Boeing 777-200ER that performed vanished Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is again in the spotlight.

This very well written article on the Jeff Wise blog will not come as a surprise to those who have followed the MH370 mystery on Plane Talking, Runway Girl and Flightglobal as well as closed and open technical forums, but every bit of additional pressure on Boeing and Malaysia Airlines for some long overdue candour and action is to be welcomed.

Some of those earlier posts can be found here and here, or through further reading of the MH370 archive via the red button on the right of the Plane Talking landing page.

You can take a narrated YouTube tour of the unsecured 777 electronic and electrical bay here.

Jeff Wise’s point is that a very sophisticated knowledge of the functionality of the electronics and electrical bay, and its vulnerabilities, was likely possessed by hijackers whose presence inside it is implied by anomalous events that show up on the satellite record of (to use shorthand) signalling events between the 777 carrying 239 people and the Inmarsat satellite that would normally monitor the performance of the jet’s two engines and report back to a maintenance support base at Rolls-Royce, their maker, in the UK.

Plane Talking has for some time had contact with airline sources who believe that whatever the intent of the original diversion of MH370, something went wrong with the execution of the plot, and the 777 turned south on a flight to fuel exhaustion and oblivion in the south Indian Ocean W or SW of Perth.  Where an Australian managed deep sea search is underway, based on the guidance given by a strategic search committee which reports to the Malaysia authorities who are the lead investigators of the disappearance of the flight.

Such a scenario might be wrong. But it is in the broadest sense, it is where the inquiries in the accident seem to be headed, except that nothing is known of the parallel police investigation.

What we do know is that the Malaysia Government, having deliberately misled its search partners as to what it knew about the course flown by MH370 on the morning of its disappearance on 8 March, has also suppressed two items in the cargo manifest, which among other possibilities, have been rumoured to have comprised gold bullion.

This is not the only thing that has been suppressed for, rather than by, the same government, but more about that sine dei as some Australian judges say.

The role of Boeing in this is important, but not officially explained. Boeing was told in no uncertain terms about the security risks of this unsecured access to critical flight and support systems several years, and as recounted in Jeff Wise’s blog, even Emirates, the largest user of the Boeing 777, brushed them aside at the time.

We will ask Boeing again why it designed such a crock when it came to security in the first place, and why it didn’t put in train immediate mandatory action to close it off. There are times when airlines, regulators and aircraft makers ought to listen to concerned pilots and take what they say seriously. Now there is risk of serious criminal liability arising from an incident in which 239 people died.

Leaving the door open to a potential for hijacking or terrorism is surely indefensible, but c’mon, give us some weasel words anyhow.


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14 thoughts on “MH370: Boeing needs to explain neglect of 777 security flaw

  1. discus

    He / they were not sophisticated enough to disable the satcom totally. So not that well planned after all.

    Not all airlines still allow easy access to e&e bays from the cabin. Do we know for certain that MAS did or did not?

    Some had them sealed up years ago. The 747 and 767 are equally open to access if not disabled by the airline concerned.If I recall correctly some Airbuses have similar access.

    As far as I can tell, nothing was done in 370 that could not be done from the cockpit.

    As for that video , I hope the fool was sacked for doing this and posting it.

  2. Cat on a PC©

    I have heard commented that access to the electronic bay coud be gained by clambering up the nose gear while the aircraft is on the ground. I don’t know whether this is factual or not but if it is, it does pose some questions.

  3. discus

    Cat on a PC, if you are on the tarmac, you already have air-side security clearance and would just grab a ladder or pull down the one fitted to the aircraft and enter in the conventional manner.

    Some maintenance guys can and do enter the E&E by using the nose gear as a ladder. It is not recommended especially as you get older.

  4. Simon Gunson

    The whole point of this hatch is that it can be used in hostage situations to gain stealthy entry to the cockpit. If that entry were sealed off then pilots would protest next time there is a hijack hostage resulting in the slaughter of pilots trapped in a cockpit.

  5. Dan Dair

    Assuming your intention was to hijack the plane in flight, as opposed to merely gaining entry,
    & assuming you already had your airside clearance;
    It makes sense to access the electronics bay via the nose gear,
    conceal yourself there for take-off & then start to disable the electronic systems at the appropriate (sic) time.

    If the electronics bay is open to the cabin, you can then subsequently climb out that way.
    If it isn’t, you probably wouldn’t want the plane to be crash-landing

    Simon Gunson,
    It can’t really be considered as ‘stealthy’ if it is widely known

  6. Simon Gunson

    Dan Dair, it has been used a number of times and hijackers are not the brightest lot.

  7. Boston the Dog

    Ben wrote,

    “There are times when airlines, regulators and aircraft makers ought to listen to concerned pilots and take what they say seriously”.

    Quite true Ben, but those days went west when accountants took over. There is an increasing discontinuity between the real-time operational world of aviation, and those that are attempting to control it.

  8. Iain Ferguson

    I think 3 in the cockpit would go a long way to helping, like they used to do years ago – Qantas did at least.

  9. Dan Dair

    Simon Gunson,
    “hijackers are not the brightest lot”

    Possibly true,
    Unfortunately, their lack of ‘brilliance’ doesn’t always prevent them being effective in their wrong-headed endeavours.

  10. Tsiry Diton

    >sine dei as some Australian judges say

    The judges may well be godless as you say, but I think it is more accurate to assert “sine die”.

    Sine die – without day
    Sine dei – without gods.

    Meanwhile some of these sine dei military forces might like to show the radar records for the area at the time.

    The Russians could do it for MH17 but not the US for MH370.

  11. joe airline pilot

    Not sure why the Jeffrey Wise article needed to use a flight simulator to prove a point. Using a simulator for this purpose is great for dramatic effect for the uninitiated, but in reality will only demonstrate the capabilities as written by software engineers. Ie if you want to know if a simulator will do something then ask a software engineer. Better still,if you want to know about an aircraft E&E then ask an E&E engineer.

    That said, if the MH370 disaster was an act of a terrorist group, then this group must be the quietest terrorist group in world history. So far no group has taken responsibility. Given that terrorist groups love to tell the world about how cranky they are, it would seem strange that none have come forward. Similarly, if the goal is to cause widespread terror, then this has been a failure. The world, the industry and the travelling public haven’t substantially changed as a result of MH370 going missing. I find the terrorism theories lacking in credibility.

  12. Ben Sandilands


    I’m not the first observer to suspect that this is about robbery not terrorism. However I am among the first to suggest that the Malaysia authorities were both protective and evasive in their promotion of a false narrative early in the search.

    Are they protecting something? And if so, who or what?

    These are important questions.

  13. Giant Bird

    My guess is that someone with very close connections with the Malaysian leadership was doing something illegal and it has all been about an attempt to protect that person. The best person to steal from is someone who is not supposed to have those goods in the first place, or have them where they were stolen from. Their hands are somewhat tied about the fuss that they can make.

  14. Confirmed Sceptic

    The robbery motive: from time to time I used to command 737 flights carrying a sobering amount of refined gold. Conveniently poured into ingots and everything. We, often including the cabin crew, used to pass the ground time speculating on what it would take to get away with the loot.

    The answer always was that it was impossible to transit any of the nearby badlands with your tonne of gold intact. Even if it was hidden. If you tried to buy your way theough the quagmire of transport, police, customs, silence you would quickly exhaust all the ill-gotten gains.

    In our fanciful calculations we assumed that anything more than a tonne would squash the springs of most speedy civilian land transport vehicles. Perhaps other people figure on larger numbers?

    A tonne of gold back then was worth about 40 Million US, and was as unwieldy as hell. Imagine trying to abscond in anything but a well-armed convoy after leaving many dead behind. There would not have been enough money in the world to finance an outrunning of the law in that circumstance, and anyone with a basic imagination could have predicted that. You’d burn through 40 million in the first day of your permanent getaway.

    Which then leaves other valuables. Either bonds, gems or something easily fissionable. None of which are widely understood to be outstanding.

    None of the preceding of course negates the powerful effects of an average IQ convinced of its own invincibility. Who knows?

    Back to the issue of the E&E hatch: should be locked, same as the flight deck door. How can that not be obvious to everybody? The underfloor area, and for that matter, all cargo bays* and the exterior, should have selectable video monitoring. I know that is crazy expensive, perhaps costing almost a hundred dollars**, but what price awareness?

    * because there are many false cargo smoke alarms, sometimes ending badly, backs broken at the bottom of slides deployed absent technologicaly trivial, but not available/installed, evidence to the contrary.

    ** That was sarcasm.

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