March 23rd, 2014

Rep. Meehan on relations between Malaysia & U.S.: “I wish it was better”

Today on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA), member of the Transportation Committee, Stephen Trimble, aviation journalist at Flight Global, and Capt. Sean Cassidy, Vice President of Airlines Pilots Association, spoke with Crowley about upgrading technology for planes in distress in lieu of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Maxim Van Norden, hydrographic science expert, and Bobbie Scholley, retired U.S. Navy Captain and Diver, also spoke to Crowley about searching and mapping the ocean for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

During the discussion about the relationship between the Malaysian government and the U.S. Government concerning Flight 370, Rep. Meehan said, “I wish it was better”, and that the reports he was receiving were “frustration”.

For more information, check out the following blog post.

The CNN Political Ticker

Lawmakers weigh in on search for Flight 370

A transcript and videos of the discussions are available after the jump.

VIDEO:

WH: ‘Chasing down every theory’ on MH370

A daunting search for flight 370

TRANSCRIPT:

CROWLEY: Malaysia’s transport minister says French satellite images show potential objects in the search corridor of the Southern Indian Ocean. No word yet on when those images were taken. Eight planes, including the U.S. Navy’s P-8 Poseidon, were involved in today’s search. A wooden pallet and strapping belts were spotted, but there’s no evidence the debris is from the missing jetliner.

Planes now returning to their base in Perth, Australia after finding no signs of Flight 370.

The search area now nearly 23,000 square miles. That Poseidon crew said conditions were terrible today, with low cloud ceilings and poor visibility.

We want to turn now to CNN’s Andrew Stevens.

He’s is in Perth, Australia.

So how bad the weather and how can they actually operate if they didn’t see anything?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The weather is bad. And worse is expected to come, Candy. The reports we’ve been getting back is what you’ve been saying — low cloud, drizzle, high winds, high seas. None of these make it any easier at all to search, because you’ve got to think about these planes. They’ve got to get down low, too.

A lot of this is now relying on visual sightings of the objects in the sea. So they’ve got to get down low. It is very, very tough.

We spoke to Lieutenant Adam Samps (ph) a couple of hours ago about the conditions that they’re experiencing on that P-8 in these deep southern latitudes.

This is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The wave action, the winds, the waters can be rough. The ceilings are low. The weather is extreme. You know, whenever you get close to the poles near the north or south, you deal with some pretty extreme weather conditions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEVENS: Washing machine conditions is one quote we’ve been hearing today, Candy. And, as I say, the conditions are expected to get worse over the next couple of days. There is a cyclone hovering in the area. But the search goes on. A full crew and complement of planes out there today. And they say they’re going to back out there tomorrow.

CROWLEY: So, Andrew, give us the latest on the search and what they’ve found. I’m semi-intrigued, I guess, by a wooden pallet and strapping belts. But a lot of people say, look, don’t make too much of it.

STEVENS: Yes. The wooden pallet could be associated with the plane. No one is leaking anything at the moment, Candy. But certainly, these wooden pallets are used on planes. Frustratingly, it was spotted yesterday, more than 24 hours ago, by a corporate jet, observers on that jet. A sophisticated plane was sent to the scene. And they’ve been at the scene again today, haven’t found anything.

We now, though, we’ve got three separate satellite images — the Australians, as we know, followed two days later by the Chinese. And now the French and sent the Malaysians images which talks about potential objects in the area.

Frustratingly, we don’t know whereabouts the French pictures are taken, where it relates to the other objects we’ve been seeing from the Australians and the Chinese. But if it is close, it’s just building and building evidence. And that’s why the Australian prime minister is saying, you know, there is a little bit of hope that we may be moving closer to solving this mystery.

But at the moment, it is still very much a mystery.

CROWLEY: Andrew Stevens from Perth for us.

Thanks so much.

We want to go now

To Lieutenant David Levy. He’s a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet.

He joins me by phone now aboard the USS Blue Ridge in the South China Sea.

Lieutenant, thank you for being here for us.

The Poseidon crew, I know, is back.

Have you heard from them and — or did they find anything today?

LT. DAVID LEVY, SPOKESMAN, U.S. NAVY SEVENTH FLEET: Candy, thank you for having me.

We have no reports of anything significant found from their mission. They went on their mission this morning. It was about a nine, 10 hour mission total. That includes the time spent transiting to and from the search area. And they returned earlier this evening with reports of nothing significant at this time.

CROWLEY: And is there a limit to what kind of conditions these planes will fly into?

It sounds dreadful. And no way around it, because the search area is where they have to go.

Is it a possibility that the weather could get so severe, coming up, that the plane simply can’t go for any of the search missions?

LEVY: Yes, that’s always a possibility. The safety of the crew and the aircraft is always a priority. But, also, these planes are built for all weather conditions. Even when the weather is bad, you know, we don’t give up the search, and especially the radar search. We can switch to visual. And we simply adjust and conduct a smarter search.

CROWLEY: And do you know anything giving the Malaysian government hydrophones?

Is that going to happen?

LEVY: No. I have no reports of anything at the time of — any hydrophones or anything being delivered to the Malaysians at this time.

CROWLEY: OK. Lieutenant David Levy, thank you for joining us.

Continue to have a safe journey.

LEVY: All right. Thank you, Candy.

Thanks for having me.

CROWLEY: The Flight 370 mystery calls into question whether airliners should be equipped with the best technology to keep track of planes.

Joining me now, Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Meehan, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, aviation journalist Steven Trimbell, and Captain John Cassidy, vice president of the Airline Pilots Association.

So I’m going to start from the premise that there is technology available that would know where, at least, some part of this plane is right now, were it on the plane, is that correct?

REP. PATRICK MEEHAN (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, there is technology. But the scope of what we’re looking at right now, talking about oceans, most of the technology is not directed to be able to do the kind of oversight in oceans that you might do over continental areas. And, of course, the third factor is, even if you have technology, if you have people who are participating in it or not participating in it, you may be able to change the ability for that technology to deliver, you know, the information that it needs to deliver.

CROWLEY: So when you look at what you think — you think a pilot — what you think planes need on board — let’s just forget the costs for a minute.

What would pilots like to see on board that could help track things should something go amiss?

CAPT. SEAN CASSIDY, VICE PRESIDENT, AIRLINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION: Well, what we really want to see are advanced ways that we can communicate and navigate and also work with our air transport and traffic management facilities all around the world. Now Congressman Meehan, fortunately, works on the aviation subcommittee and is involved in a project that we’re heavily involved in, called NexGen. And NexGen, when broadly applied worldwide, will create an infrastructure which would actually give us the ability to very, very accurately track the movement of airplanes all over the world.

CROWLEY: And there’s also been talk, Steven — and I know you know this issue inside and out — of why aren’t there cameras in the cockpit?

Why is a pilot able to turn off something that is sending out data?

So what has been the — those seem fairly simple to do. It’s not the high cost kind of thing.

STEVEN TRIMBELL, AVIATION JOURNALIST: Well, there is a potential high cost of streaming live data, especially video, from the cockpit. But I mean the real issue in this case was the — all the systems that are on board the aircraft already stopped transmitting. And I think what the regulators will do afterwards — after this — is look at this and figure out how to foolproof some of those systems so that the transponder can’t just stop working, the ACARS miss — data messaging system can’t stop working. And that would help us a lot.

CROWLEY: So sort of a pilot-proof…

TRIMBELL: Right.

CROWLEY: — equipment?

TRIMBELL: The pilot has to have some authority to turn off the electrical systems in case they malfunction or overheat. But there’s a — there’s a way, perhaps, you could put a small backup battery, embed that in some of these systems.

You could also cre — install additional systems that do more to help us narrow the search area when something like this happens.

CROWLEY: Well, how about a battery inside the data boxes that lasts more than 30 days?

That doesn’t seem like a high cost out there sort of thing to do.

Why has that not happened?

MEEHAN: Well, that certainly is — things that I think, as we move into the future, they’re talking about 90 day batteries that may be able to give off signals, but also the potential that there would be streaming that would be targeted to be normal until there’s an anomaly, at which point in time, as soon as a plane goes off the charted course, it would start to give you a significantly more information.

This is the kind of thing that’s capable to be done through satellite technology, but we’re not there yet in the form of utilizing it in that way.

CROWLEY: And the other thing that I learned so, the other thing that I learned and we relearn these things when we have these unfortunate tragedies happen and that is that the flight recording of what’s going — what’s being said inside the cockpit actually only picks up the final two hours before landing or crash. What about constant? What would be wrong with that?

CASSIDY: Well, it’s a baseline standard, and having the ability to have continuously revolving loop of recordings will probably give you most of the information that you need to obtain if you’re going to be doing an accident investigation. And kind of shifting towards what Steven was describing before, I think you have to put things in perspective. Right now there’s probably upwards of about 50,000 commercial flights airborne right now. 99.99 percent of those flights are being operated very professionally by those flight deck crews.

And I think that we — what we need to do is strike a balance between need to obtain important data regarding the performance of the aircraft but also give the pilot the ability to do the job they are tasked with and you always have to have the ability to isolate sort of assistance on the airplane.

I think once we get to the root of what happens with this Malaysian flight I think we’ll have more clarity on what that balance is.

CROWLEY: Congressman, as you look at the authority in congress and your committee and elsewhere, what could you reasonably do that you think would at least help or add to the body of information that is available should a plane crash or disappear. What can you do now and would you like to do it now?

MEEHAN: Well, the first thing to start looking for global standards. What we’re doing here in the United States isn’t necessarily followed around the world. The ability to create the kind of buy in in which airlines would be required to put together the technology that would match the satellite capacity. But of course that’s great expense and we’re talking about asking for this kind of responsibility to be shared across the world.

We do this here in the United States. And we’re on the cutting- edge with the growth towards Nexgen. But when we’re out in the middle of oceans, there’s a lot of questions about expense and value for, you know, that particular kind of technology being used when as was stated 99.99 percent of the time you’re not getting any information.

CROWLEY: Isn’t there an argument — go ahead, because you wanted to say something.

CASSIDY: Well, there is a system called triggered transmission that only broadcasts when the aircraft is doing something it’s not supposed to be doing or there’s some big malfunction on the aircraft. That reduces the concern about the cost of continuous live transmissions. When you add that with the satellite tracking that may come about with this Nexgen, air traffic control monitorization, that would definitely help us never have to worry about something like this happening again, you would like to think anyway.

CROWLEY: I want to thank you all, but before I go congressman, I want to take advantage of your seat on the homeland committee and ask you about the relationship as concerns this flight between the Malaysian government and the U.S. government. Is there enough cooperation going on?

MEEHAN: Well, frankly, I wish it was better. The reports that I’m getting are frustration. We’re invited in only a little bit. We have legats there from the FBI and State Department, very small to the extent we’re asked. And, you know, there are concerns. There are the Chinese worried the other day about information that they are getting. They produced the satellite reports.

So I think across the board people are looking for more in the way of openness from the Malaysian government in terms of sharing the information they have in a timely manner.

CROWLEY: Congressman Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania, thank you for joining us. Captain Sean Cassidy really appreciate your time as well. Steven Trimbell, we’ll come back. I know you’re the expert on all this, so we appreciate your input.

Searching for a needle in a haystack, a former navy diver and an ocean expert on the challenges of finding flight 370. That’s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: In the search for Flight 370, ultimately nothing will be more important in the investigation than this noise.

That, believe it or not, is the ping from the plane’s black boxes. Searchers once they find where the debris field is, if there is one, will be listening for that noise under water.

We are now past the halfway mark of the 30 day battery life of those flight data recorders.

Joining me now, Bobbie Scholley, retired Navy captain and diver and Maxim van Norden, an ocean expert who teaches hydrographic science at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Mr. Van Norden, thank you for joining us. We’ve heard a lot today from our reporters on the scene and from others about the conditions in the search area, sort of the southern part of the Indian Ocean. Tell me about that area in terms of the currents, the winds.

What are these searchers up against?

MAXIM VAN NORDEN, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI: Well, they are up against some very tremendous challenges. The prevailing depths of that area is about 4,000 meters, and so the pressures at those depths around 6,000 pounds per square inch and there’s very few equipment that can actually operate at those depths.

They have to also backtrack; if they find any debris they have to backtrack about 16 days, I guess, to where they think the plane might have entered the water if that’s what happened. So, you’re talking about hundreds of miles that debris might have drifted in the currents and in the weather of the southern Indian Ocean.

So those are some tremendous challenges. Then they have to really determine from, if they can get the pinger reception, to localize that area because ocean searches are tremendously slow, and the areas have to be highly localized as to where to conduct the searches.

Just to give you an example or a perspective on this, probably the vehicle of choice for an ocean search at those depths would be the Remus 6000. And the Remus can only do about four knots, about five miles an hour. So…

CROWLEY: Slow, slow, slow.

VAN NORDEN: It’s a tremendously slow business. Yes, it is.

CROWLEY: Yes, yes.

Bobbie, let me ask you. If you’re searching for something in these conditions, let’s say you spot something, how do they even — what do they do with that information?

Do you let it continue to drift? Do you send a ship and it somehow picks it up? It just seems so hostile.

CAPT. BOBBIE SCHOLLEY, U.S. NAVY (RET.): Well, if they do spot something and determine that it is aircraft debris, you would send a ship, one of the ships that are out there, to go and recover it.

And if it was aircraft debris that would be fabulous and you’re going to take it and you’re going to immediately send that information to the investigators to determine what piece it was and that sort of thing and then you’re going to take that and work backwards.

You’re going to get the experts to tell you the local prevailing currents and wind that’s happened, and you’re going to look at the size of that aircraft debris and determine how fast it would have drifted and that sort of thing and work your way backwards.

CROWLEY: And, Maxim, let me ask you, are the currents in this particular search area, which are actually quite large, but generally are the currents in this area strong enough to move heavy parts of this plane, or is it only the sort of the surface debris or just under the surface debris that’s moving?

VAN NORDEN: Well, I’m not really sure anybody really knows all the answers to that question because so many things that are on the surface, depending on how much they stick out of the water, will move differently. Some would be like carried by the wind like a sail, for instance, and others very little be affected by the wind.

When I looked at the model, and the Navy has models for all these areas, you know, the prevailing currents are probably around one knot or less, but even so after 16 days you’re talking about hundreds of miles of drift there.

CROWLEY: Bobbie, if you — given these conditions, both the natural conditions and now the weather, fall and winter are coming in this region, is there a point where you say, you know, we have to stop this for now?

Or we know enough and we can leave the debris that we know is down there without recovering it?

SCHOLLEY: Well, you have to look at the seasonal conditions. As they enter into the winter months, you might get to a point where you have to say the surface search has got to stop for the safety of the ships. There’s a point where you cannot leave those ships out there.

If we are entering into a hurricane season or the winter storm season, you might have to pull those surface ships out of there. That’s a call that the coordinators are going to have to look at for the safety of the surface ships.

The aircraft might be able to continue to do a surface search and you might have to make the call to delay the search until the seasonal conditions change. That’s a call that they made for the Air France.

CROWLEY: Which you were involved in the recovery event.

SCHOLLEY: Well, I was involved in the TWA recovery. But in the Air France when they made that decision twice, they did know that the aircraft was on the bottom in Air France. We don’t know that for sure in this case until we see a piece of debris. Then you can still go back even though you don’t have a confirmation on surface debris in this case.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you, Maxim, because I want to show our audience a radar-style time lapse. And it’s actually, by the way, I thought it was very cool, it’s about wave heights around the world.

There’s very deep red colors off the southern coast of Australia. I’m assuming indicating that the surf is very rough and high and what does that — give me an idea of how high the swells are, how high the waves are in this area.

VAN NORDEN: Well, I don’t — I can’t see the same things that you’re seeing.

CROWLEY: It’s very red.

VAN NORDEN: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

VAN NORDEN: And, of course, that’s fairly seasonal. I believe they are entering their fall season and also fairly rough season weather wise. All I can say that’s a tremendous impact on the operations in that area, and so it would be very difficult for that.

And if they ever get to the point of trying to do an underwater search, of course, that would affect trying to launch and recover these AUVs to try to do any kind of searches.

CROWLEY: Maxim Van Norden, our ocean expert from the University of South Mississippi and Bobbie Scholley, retired Navy captain and diver.

Thank you both so much.

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