News / Asia

Search for Missing MH370 Could Be Costliest

Captain Flt. Lt. Tim McAlevey of the Royal New Zealand Air Force flies a P-3 Orion in search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 over the Indian Ocean, April 11, 2014.
Captain Flt. Lt. Tim McAlevey of the Royal New Zealand Air Force flies a P-3 Orion in search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 over the Indian Ocean, April 11, 2014.
Shannon Van Sant
The search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 may be the costliest in aviation history, with dozens of countries contributing resources to the search.  For China, finding the plane brings benefits beyond helping the passengers’ relatives.  

The four-week-long search for Malaysia Airlines flight 370 is stretching countries’ military resources with planes, ships, underwater listening devices and satellites deployed at a cost of some $44 million so far.  

Christian Le Miere of the International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that China alone has spent as much as $15 million in the past month to help find flight 370.

“Using rough calculations of the cost of a warship being at sea is about $100,000 a day, and the cost of a significant aircraft being about $10,000-$15,000 an hour, then you can probably get to an estimate of between $10 and $15 million,” Le Miere said.

Searchers are scouring the southern Indian Ocean for any debris from the missing plane and if they do find any wreckage -- efforts to retrieve the plane will likely be costlier with the deployment of submersibles to the ocean floor.

“No one can spend money indefinitely or forever,” said Ramon Navaratnam, a Malaysian economist and chairman of the Center for Public Policy Studies in Kuala Lumpur.

But searching forever is what countries have vowed to do, with Malaysia saying they will never give up and China saying that it will spare no effort in the hunt for the plane.

Alexander Neil, a senior fellow with the International Institute of Strategic Studies, said China's role in the search process provides an opportunity for the Asian giant to exert influence well outside its borders.  

“It is reflective of China's growing capability to project power way beyond what is known as the first island chain, which is the chain of islands all the way from the Korean peninsula down to the Philippines and Malaysia," he said.

China has deployed 18 ships, eight helicopters and three fixed-wing aircraft.  Neil said the Indian Ocean is an important place for China strategically to have a presence.

"I think it's also in tune with China's intent to protect its sea lanes across the Indian Ocean, across the Indonesia archipelago and the Malacca Straits," he said.

Australia and Malaysia have deemed the high cost of the search irrelevant.  As for China, analysts say there may be many returns for its investment in the search operation.

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