Aviation Herald's comparative diagram of AKL-KL routes
Aviation Herald’s comparative diagram of AKL-KL routes

For an example of hysterics in the click bait media, the persistent reports that a Malaysia Airlines jet flew in the opposite direction to that intended for a full eight minutes on its way from Auckland to Kuala Lumpur is hard to pass up.

There remain a few grey areas in the explanations so far forthcoming, but this was a minor incident, to MH132, on 25 December 2015, that had nothing to do with the appalling loss of life on MH370 (239 on board) on 8 March 2014, nor the shoot down of MH17 (298 dead) on 17 July 2014.

The diagram on top of page from Aviation Herald and its report on this incident is the key to understanding what happened, and makes the media reports that continued to be posted in their original, inaccurate, and frankly ridiculous forms on the internet an embarrassment to those that care about accurate journalism.

What we know is that because of adverse forecast headwinds forecast for cruising altitudes over the tropical north of Australia flight planning at Malaysia Airlines chose to use an often used but more southerly track across the great southern land to get to KL.

There seems to have been an earlier flight plan using the more frequently used northerly route.

On departure from Auckland MH132 was given instructions by the tower to take them away from the normal traffic that it has to manage for multiple arrivals and departures prior to picking up its filed flight plan.  Such instructions by busy airport towers are about getting a flight away from an airport, influenced not just by traffic but the prevailing winds on the airfield and the runway being used.

Eight minutes seems like a perfectly reasonable period of time in which to achieve this, whereupon the pilots of MH132 were clearly surprised by being given a heading which wasn’t what they expected from their filed flight plan.

What is unclear is whether or not the pilots had studied the latest and correct plan, or an outdated plan. The Aviation Herald report infers that they had expected to fly the northerly route, while the tower directed them on a heading consistent with the newer more southerly route, which was then flown to KL once that confusion was resolved.

However there are aspects of this incident that remain undetermined, and incident investigations often produce surprise findings based on additional information.

Finding out whether the tower was using the right flight plan, and MH132 the wrong one, is important. What went wrong where? MH132 is shown as having flown the southernmost route, but could have flown either without any issues.

It would be interesting to know if Australian ATC was expecting to see MH132 follow the northerly or southerly option, and if it had received only one version of the flight plan.

Stories about how the jet was flying due south toward its possible demise in the southern ocean,  or those that made gratuitous constructs seeking to link this incident to possible explanations for the disappearance of MH370 were a load of crap. How much of that crap was invented by the authors of those reports is something a serious news organisation ought to investigate.

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