The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
Missing in Action: AirAsia Flight 8501
It is almost inconceivable in this day and age, but another aircraft has gone missing in action in Southeast Asia. This time, it's an Airbus A320-200 operated by the Indonesian division of AirAsia. The aircraft was flying between Surabaya in eastern Java and was headed to Singapore with 155 passengers and seven crewmembers. Here's how we've been covering developments. As always, the latest item is on top, so read up from the bottom for the full context.

12/28/14, 7:30PM ET, SUNDAY

If you thought the airline industry would be shocked into action after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing without a trace in March, think again. As Mary Kirby of the Runway Girl Network explains here, the technology exists for real-time tracking of passenger aircraft. But the airlines continue to drag their metaphoric feet and refuse to implement any of the relatively low-cost, easily implemented systems.

12/28/14, 4:15PM ET, SUNDAY

Several members have emailed me in recent hours wondering why I have not updated you on the AirAsia Flight 8501 disappearance since my initial dispatch just after midnight this morning.

The reason why I haven't, despite what you may be hearing on CNN, is that there is nothing new to report. I'm not going to churn out speculation and chatter just because CNN thinks its wraparound, let's-go-to-publicity-hungry-talking-heads coverage will draw marginally higher ratings than Anthony Bourdain reruns. CNN's endless coverage of this when there is a literal absence of any relevant new facts is unconscionable from a journalism standpoint.

. What we know now is essentially what we knew a dozen or more hours ago.
+ AirAsia QZ8501 disappeared from radar at 7:24am local time Sunday after departing at 5:35am local time Sunday from Surabaya, Java, en route to Singapore.
+ The Airbus A320-200 aircraft was carrying 155 passengers and a crew of seven. The pilot has about 6,100 hours of experience with AirAsia and the first officer has 2,275 hours with AirAsia.
+ The pilot apparently asked for permission to deviate from the filed flight route to avoid bad weather that has been affecting the region for several days. The aircraft was still under the direction of Indonesian air traffic control authorities when contact was lost.
+ AirAsia and its affiliates have never had a serious accident or lost a passenger. The Airbus A320-200 used for Flight 8501 is reported to be registration PK-AXC and received its last scheduled maintenance on November 16.
+ The search for the aircraft was suspended hours ago because of darkness and will resume after sunrise Monday local time, which is about a 90 minutes from now.
+ Air Asia is posting statements at a special page ( The last Twitter post ( was about 17 hours ago. AirAsia's chief executive, Tony Fernandes, has posted a few comments on his Twitter feed (
+ And, yes, AirAsia has changed its online presence to a muted gray from the fire-engine red that it its brand standard and the scheme of its livery and signage. (That's probably because red in Asian cultures signifies good luck and success and it may seem inappropriate in this situation, but that is my speculation.)

And that is all we know. It's all we are likely to know until the aircraft and its flight-data and cockpit-voice recorder are located and discovered. (You can and should fervently hope there are survivors to rescue, of course, but even that depends on locating the aircraft.) Everything else you're hearing is literally speculation. Some of it is informed, some of it is not. But it's all speculation and repeating it hour after hour in "live" and "breaking news" coverage doesn't change it.

12/28/14, 4PM ET, SUNDAY

You are hearing various sources call AirAsia a Malaysia airline and some calling it an Indonesia carrier. In fact, it is both--and more than that.

The airline commonly known as AirAsia is actually a combine of related independent carriers operating in and/or based in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, India and the Philippines. The unifying thread is Tony Fernandes. His Tune Group controls the Malaysia-based airline AirAsia and Fernandes and his affiliates own significant minority stakes in the other carriers. The airlines all operate as AirAsia, they all use a common Internet presence and all of their Airbus aircraft are configured and outfitted in exactly the same way.

This is done to speed growth--AirAsia is one of the fastest-growing carriers in the world--and to comply with ownership requirements in these nations. (Like the United States, most of these nations bar outright foreign control of airlines.) Many of the carriers operated under other names before rebranding as AirAsia and adopting its service model and brand identity. (The Indonesian airline was once called Awair and the Filipino carrier was called Zest, for example.)

But make no mistake: Fernandes, 49, a former Warner music executive, is firmly in charge of all of operations of any carrier bearing the AirAsia name. He sets the tone, controls the marketing and operations and, as you may have seen, hasn't shied away from being the public face of AirAsia even in this situation. Fernandes also owns a hotel chain, the Queens Park Rangers football club of the English Premier League and has many other business interests. He is one of the richest men in Malaysia.

In the case of Flight 8501, it carries the QZ code of Indonesia AirAsia and was operated by the airline legally known as Indonesia AirAsia. That airline is 51 percent owned by Indonesian shareholders and 49 percent owned by Fernandes and his companies.

You can see how AirAsia explains its interlocking ownership and operations here:

12/28/14, 12:15AM ET, SUNDAY

An AirAsia Airbus A320-200 has gone missing somewhere en route between Java and Singapore.

The aircraft, designated Flight QZ8501, is believed to be carrying 162 passengers and crew. It departed from Surabaya on the east coast of the Indonesian island of Java at 5:27 am local time Sunday morning (5:27pm Saturday ET). It lost contact with Jakarta air traffic control about 7:24am local time somewhere over the Java Sea. The plane was due to arrive in Singapore at 8:37am Sunday local time (7:37pm Saturday ET).

AirAsia is a low-cost airline based in Malaysia with its primary hub in Kuala Lumpur and has been operating since 1996. It is one of the fastest-growing airlines on the planet and serves more than a dozen countries via a network of closely aligned affiliates. It flies an all-A320 fleet of about 170 aircraft. The original AirAsia of Malaysia is controlled by the Tune Group, owned by Tony Fernandes, a former Time Warner executive who has been aggressively expanding the carrier throughout Asia in the last decade. The aircraft that is missing is believed to be operated by Indonesia AirAsia, based in Jakarta and 49 percent owned by Fernandes' companies.

The AirAsia website is The Twitter feed is Here is the airline's most recent statement on the incident:

CNN and Al Jazeera America are in wraparound coverage if you wish to follow developments.

Needless to say, the route of this flight is close, at least relatively speaking, to where Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared in March. There is no reason to think the two incidents are related, of course, but speculation is inevitable, I suppose.

As I always warn you in these breaking-news situations, the error rate on "facts" being reported even by reliable news operations is appallingly high. Approach everything you see or hear with extreme skepticism.

This column is Copyright 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.