The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 resumed Monday roughly 1,100 miles off the Australian coast. The task is daunting: Searchers are focusing on 23,000 square miles of seabed that had never been mapped in detail before this summer, at depths of up to four miles. Nonetheless, the Australian Transportation Safety Board, the agency leading the hunt, as well as airline safety experts have expressed cautious optimism that the plane will ultimately be found.
But what if it's not? The question is awkward and uncomfortable, in part because it implies that friends and families of lost passengers might never receive the closure that they seek. Yet it's important to ask, not least because of the potentially corrosive effect an unsolved mystery could have on the aviation industry's well-deserved reputation for safety. One need only look at the panicky abandonment of Malaysia Airlines by passengers (compounded by the loss of another Malaysia Airlines jetliner, shot down over Ukraine) to get a sense of how drastically a loss of confidence might impact the aviation business.