Missing Malaysian airliner: Why do transponders have an ‘off switch’?

Missing Malaysian airliner: Why do transponders have an ‘off switch’?

Ever since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared, a fascinated public has asked: Why can somebody in the cockpit shut off the transponder?

It turns out there are several legitimate reasons why a pilot might want to shut off this key form of communication that allows air traffic controllers to identify and track airplanes.

Authorities believe that Flight 370’s transponder was intentionally shut off, delaying search and rescue efforts and helping to conceal the plane’s location — a mystery unsolved more than 10 days after the Boeing 777 vanished.

It’s rare for a pilot to turn off a transponder during flight, but occasionally there is cause.

  • Sometimes a transponder malfunctions, giving out incorrect readings.
  • The device could have an electrical short or catch on fire. Pilots would want to shut it down rather than risk a fire spreading to the rest of the cockpit or airplane.

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