The search for missing Flight MH370 will be suspended if the aircraft is not found in the current search area, the authorities announced in a statement yesterday.
"In the absence of new credible evidence, Australia, China and Malaysia have collectively decided to suspend the search upon the completion of the 120,000 sq km search area," Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai told reporters.
After two years, the joint search has covered 110,000 sq km, an area more than 150 times the size of Singapore. This has been the largest and most expensive search in aviation history, costing US$137 million (S$186 million).
The authorities said they have not given up on finding the Malaysia Airlines plane and the decision to suspend the search was not due to the cost, which is being split among the three countries.
Said Chinese Transport Minister Yang Chuantang: "Suspension does not mean the termination of the search work."
The search has been hampered by bad weather conditions, so Mr Liow said the work will continue until October at least.
Australian Infrastructure and Transport Minister Darren Chester said the team continues to analyse data and inspect debris, but without any new evidence that could assist in locating the aircraft, "a further search is not viable".
Mr Liow maintained that the authorities are confident they have been searching in the right area, based on the locations of the debris found on the coast of eastern Africa.
Media reports on Thursday cited a Dutch company involved in the search as saying the plane could have glided down instead of dived into the ocean, raising the possibility that it may have made a mistake.
"The debris' drift modelling showed us that it is from that particular area, so we are still confident we are looking in the right area," said Mr Liow.
MH370 disappeared from the radar on March 8, 2014, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board. Using satellite data, the authorities concluded that the plane is likely to have changed its course and crashed into the ocean, off the coast of Perth, Australia, when it ran out of fuel.
Investigators have not been able to pinpoint the cause of the plane's disappearance because of the lack of evidence, with the aircraft's body and black boxes yet to be found.
Mr Liow added that the data they have received will be made public soon.
Ms Grace Nathan, daughter of missing passenger Anne Daisy, said: "We need to know what new information they need in order to continue the search."
The families of missing passengers are considering raising funds so that they can offer a reward to those who can find more debris or provide additional information.
Meanwhile, coordination efforts between the authorities looking into the case have been questioned, as Mr Liow said Malaysia has yet to receive details from France following last year's discovery of a flaperon - a part of a plane's wing - on Reunion Island, a French territory. It was the first debris confirmed to be from MH370.
The authorities said 12 more plane parts have been found since last year. Four have been tested and were "almost certainly from MH370", they said.