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MH370: 'We haven't found anything anywhere'

Tony Abbott says he's "baffled and disappointed" no debris has been found, as the search for MH370 shifts focus.

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The elusive black box of missing Malaysia Airlines jet MH370 would still be transmitting its location if the aviation industry had swiftly adopted recommendations to extend the battery life of the devices to 90 days.

The recommendations to increase the capability of the batteries from the current limit of 30 days were made in the aftermath of the probe into Air France Flight 447, which crashed in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009.

Investigators urged regulators to require planes to carry the long-life batteries in their black boxes as "rapidly as possible", as well as giving them a more powerful signal range, currently limited to as little as one nautical mile.

Air France Flight 447: Recommendations proposed following the 2009 incident may have helped to track MH370's black box.

Air France Flight 447: Recommendations proposed following the 2009 incident may have helped to track MH370's black box. Photo: AFP

The International Civil Aviation Organisation, a UN agency, took until this year to recommend the longer battery life, but delayed implementation until 2018.

"We all know that the aviation industry is extremely cautious. They take a very long time to adopt new technology," said Blake van den Heuvel, a director at Canadian aviation technology firm DRS Technologies – a company which makes "floating" black boxes for aircraft.

Fifty-two days after Flight MH370 disappeared, its black box has run out of battery power, after apparently giving the search team some tantalising signals for three days before it went dead.

The emissions were never confirmed as being from MH370, as they stopped too soon for confirmation, and the submersible drone equipped with sonar and cameras sent down to the bottom of the ocean, where the signal was believed to have emanated, found nothing.

The black box – which contains the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder of a plane – is the key to uncovering what happened in an air crash.  

It took two years to find the black box from the ill-fated Air France plane, even though its black box was only 6.5 nautical miles from the known crash site of the plane.

Investigators into MH370's disappearance have no physical evidence of where the plane ditched, so the search could stretch well beyond the eight months offered by Air Marshal Angus Houston and possibly greatly exceed two years.

Certainly, the search and rescue effort would be greatly helped if the airline industry had taken up another recommendation from the Air France investigation, the introduction of deployable flight recorders – black boxes that float.

Mr van den Heuvel said this technology has been around for 40 years, is used in many military aircraft but has met resistance from the commercial aviation sector due to perceived costs.

At the point of impact, the deployable flight recorders send a signal, relaying location, the plane's call sign and country of origin. It then floats, rather than sinking to the bottom of the ocean like a conventional black box.

"Given what's happening near Perth, this would be hugely important. You would know immediately where the plane impacted and where the debris floated. From there you can pinpoint the plane on the bottom of the ocean," Mr Van den Heuvel said.

"It's used by thousands of aircraft, just not many civilian ones. In the commercial world, cost is everything. This has always been the impediment."

Despite decades of resistance to mandating the use of floating black boxes, the tragedy of MH370 has motivated the ICAO and US Congress to look with more urgency at making the technology compulsory in commercial passenger jets.