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Could big data stop another MH370 mystery?

The fate of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 is one of the greatest airline mysteries of recent times.

A number of theories have been proffered as to what happened to the jet, with its location still unknown. But as investigators begin to piece together the story, the industry is looking at ways to prevent another event like this – and big data could be the answer.

A crew member of a Royal New Zealand Airforce (RNZAF) P-3K2-Orion aircraft helps to look for objects during the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in flight over the Indian Ocean off the coast of Perth, Australia.
Greg Wood - Pool | Getty Images
A crew member of a Royal New Zealand Airforce (RNZAF) P-3K2-Orion aircraft helps to look for objects during the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in flight over the Indian Ocean off the coast of Perth, Australia.

"With current technology you can find the haystack, but with big data you can find the needle," Nils Herzberg, global head discrete industries at SAP, told CNBC at the Farnborough International Airshow.

Read MoreAfter MH370,Malaysia Airlines under scrutiny

Flight MH370 went missing on March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpar to Beijing. Some officials have suggested the flight may have been deliberately steered off course, but conclusive evidence about the jet's path - as well as who was responsible - has remained elusive.

Authorities and investigators were criticized for their handling of the situation, with families saying they took too long to provide information, and were not forthright with the details they had.

Airplanes currently collect huge amounts of data about the performance of their engine, which is collected by engineers when the plane returns to ground. This can be used to assess the performance of the aircraft and what problems it may have - but this is rarely done in real time, meaning airlines will only see the data once the flight is over.

Read MoreTimeline of Flight MH370

Increasing the bandwidth of communication between an aircraft and the ground is key to unlocking real-time capability, according to Herzberg, which could be crucial for crisis prevention when planes are in flight.

"If you stream data off the airplane, you would be able to almost say in real time what went wrong. It will help with the understanding of the condition of the airplane and what is going to fail," Herzberg added.

One thing that has hindered investigations into MH370 is the lack of a black box, which is the recording device within a plane used to determine what happened on a flight. The Malaysian Airlines incident has highlighted the drawback of the device – which, along with the plane, has not been located.

Analysts said the black box was outdated and airlines should focus on data capabilities available to make flights safer.

Search for MH370 black box

"The black box is outdated. Why can't we at least transmit the main messages in real time?" Damien Lasou, global managing director for aerospace and defense at Accenture, told CNBC in a phone interview.

"We can expect progress to come from improving aircraft reliability and improving the data that you can upload as the flight is happening."

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