The missing Boeing 777 was airworthy, officials insisted yesterday (Wednesday) as questions emerged over whether warnings about potential safety problems had been heeded.
Airlines around the world were warned by the US Federal Aviation Administration last year that all Boeing 777s should be checked for signs of cracking under the skin of the fuselage which "could lead to rapid decompression and loss of structural integrity of the aeroplane".
Although the chief executive of Malaysia Airlines insisted that the carrier had received and acted upon the directive, he was unable to confirm whether the safety check had been carried out on the missing jet. Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said: "We ensure that all our aircraft are airworthy and comply to all the ADs [airworthiness directives] and the SBs [service bulletins]."
But asked whether the missing Boeing 777-200ER had been checked for the specific problem following the FAA's November directive, he admitted he would have to "check on the record" whether tests had taken place yet.
A spokesman for Malaysia Airlines confirmed on Tuesday that the missing aircraft had been serviced on Feb 23.
A commercial airline captain who trains pilots to fly Boeing 777 aircraft, who did not want to be named, said that a "catastrophic failure" caused by a fault such as a crack in the fuselage was the most likely explanation for the disappearance.
"This was obviously a catastrophic failure or break-up at some stage where the pilots had no time to send out messages or alerts," he said.
James Healy-Pratt, an aviation lawyer who has represented bereaved families in other air accidents, claimed that Malaysian Airlines had declined to buy Boeing's advanced "Airplane Health Management" system, which monitors systems and parts in real time and could have alerted it to any potential problems with the fuselage.
Despite the host of theories about the fate of the airliner, Steve Landells, a flight safety specialist at the British Airline Pilots Association, said none had yet offered a convincing explanation.
"It is a very safe aeroplane, it has had very few hull losses over the years and when they have gone down the reasons have been discovered," he said, adding that it was common for the FAA to issue directives for all aircraft models.