The search for the missing Malaysian aircraft has already cost more than the whole recovery operation of the 2009 Air France Flight 447

Flight MH370: Search most costly operation in history

The so far fruitless search for the missing Malaysian Flight MH370 has already cost more than the whole recovery operation of the Air France aircraft that crashed into the Atlantic in 2009.

Putting together data from defence force statistics on available hourly costs of equipment managed by the US Pentagon, which has been deployed in the search, Reuters has come up with a $44m (£26m) bill for the operation after the first month. This amount, however, doesn’t include contribution of other countries participating in the operation, said to be the biggest of its kind in the history of aviation.

At this stage already and with the crash site still not determined, the cost of the MH370 search operation already exceeds the total price tag of the two-year search and black box recovery operation of the Air France flight 447, which ended in the Atlantic in 2009, killing 228 people aboard.

In the case of MH370, 26 countries have joined the search efforts, using their planes, ships, submarines and satellites to help solve the so far inexplicable aircraft disappearance.

The $44m first month bill includes neither the cost of work of intelligence analysts studying satellite or radar data, nor the pay and accommodation for hundreds of personnel involved in the search on site.

Despite the rising cost, Najin Razak, the prime minister of Malaysia who is expected to bear the financial brunt of the operation, said there are no plans to discontinue the search for financial reasons.

Until today, Australia has been contributing the most towards the search, after becoming a coordinator of the international effort.

"It's only reasonable that we should bear this cost - it's an act of international citizenship," said Australia’s prime minister Tony Abbott.

"At some point, there might need to be a reckoning, there might need to be some kind of tallying, but nevertheless we are happy to be as helpful as we can to all the countries that have a stake in this."

The Australian Defence Force has been spending at least 800,000 Australian Dollars (£447,000) a day on the search, with its HMAS Success alone costing around 550,000 Australian Dollars daily.

An unnamed Malaysian government source told Reuters the entire search and recovery for MH370 could be at least double the money spent to recover the black boxes of the Air France's Airbus and could eventually run into hundreds of millions of dollars.

An earlier search in the South China Sea by Vietnam was estimated by local media to cost $8m. Expenses of China – another major contributor to the search operations – have not been revealed.

With the majority of the passenger of the doomed flight being Chinese, China has already deployed 18 ships, eight helicopters and three fixed-wing aircraft to various search areas during the month-long hunt.

The Global Times, an influential tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, estimated that an Ilyushin Il-76 costs $10,000 an hour to keep in the air on fuel alone, not including money spent on maintenance or accommodation for the crews.

Chinese warships would cost at least $100,000 a day to operate, and most likely a lot more, the newspaper added.

"There's a lot of pressure in China to find the plane," said a Beijing-based Western diplomat. "China will spare no effort."

The Pentagon said last week that it had already spent more than $3.3m on the search and has put in place plans to nearly double its original $4m budget.

As well as flying its P-8 surveillance planes out of Perth, the US Navy is playing an instrumental role via its high-tech underwater black-box detector equipment.

It has sent both its Towed Pinger Locator, which this week picked up signals which may be from the missing plane's cockpit data recorders, and a Bluefin-21 autonomous underwater vehicle.


Read more about MH370 in our infographics section

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