AirAsia Flight QZ8501: Carrier confirms Surabaya-Singapore route suspended; plane was flying on unauthorised schedule

A member of the Lawyers Strategic Council of Pakistan holding up a sign as she lights candles during a vigil for the passengers of AirAsia Flight QZ8501 in Lahore on Jan 2, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A member of the Lawyers Strategic Council of Pakistan holding up a sign as she lights candles during a vigil for the passengers of AirAsia Flight QZ8501 in Lahore on Jan 2, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - Indonesia Air Asia confirmed that its Surabaya-Singapore route has been suspended by Indonesia's transport ministry but said it would not comment on the matter until the government completes its investigation.

"We are aware the government is doing evaluation process to investigate. In that regard, AirAsia management would fully cooperate with the government in the evaluation,'' said Mr Sunu Widyatmoko, President Director of AirAsia Indonesia.

"We, the management of AirAsia, would not make any comment or statement in that period of the evaluation process until the evaluation report is completed."

The transport ministry said earlier that AirAsia flight QZ8501 that went missing last Sunday was flying on an unauthorised schedule. The flight time had not been cleared by officials, said director-general of air transport Djoko Murjatmodjo.

"It violated the route permit given, the schedule given, that's the problem," he told AFP. "AirAsia's permit for the route has been frozen because it violated the route permit given."

The ministry said "customers who have booked AirAsia's Surabaya-Singapore tickets should be compensated with other airline tickets as per the existing regulation."

A statement from transport ministry spokesman J.A. Barata said AirAsia was not permitted to fly the Surabaya-Singapore route on Sundays and had not asked to change its schedule.

Search teams have narrowed their hunt for the plane's fuselage and remaining bodies from the crash of the Airbus A320-200, with foreign investigators helping to pinpoint its black boxes, crucial to determining the cause of the crash off the island of Borneo.

Rough weather has in recent days hampered the search for the plane, which is believed to be in relatively shallow water of around 25m to 32m. So far 30 bodies and various items of debris have been recovered.

The search is now focused on an area of 45 by 35 nautical miles, centred about 75 nautical miles south-west of Pangkalan Bun, a town in Central Kalimantan on Borneo.

The families of victims have been preparing funerals as the bodies recovered are identified in Surabaya, where a crisis centre has been set up at a police hospital with facilities to store 150 bodies.

Before take-off, the pilot of Flight 8501 had asked for permission to fly at a higher altitude to avoid a storm, but the request was not approved due to other planes above him on the popular route, according to AirNav, Indonesia's air traffic control.

In his last communication shortly before all contact was lost, he said he wanted to change course to avoid the menacing storm system.

(SOURCE: AFP, Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja in Jakarta)