AirAsia flight QZ8501: Indonesia's anti-graft body offers to probe issuance of flying permit

JAKARTA (JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Following the revelation that the crashed AirAsia flight QZ8501 might have obtained a flying permit outside of proper procedures, the country's anti-graft body is offering help to probe into the possibility of bribery having been practiced in the case.

The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) is ready to help the transportation ministry to curb alleged irregularities that might lead to corruption or bribery practices plaguing flying permits in the country's aviation system, the agency's deputy chairman, Mr Bambang Widjojanto, said on Tuesday.

He said the agency would establish communications with the ministry to find out whether AirAsia had eased its way to obtain flying permits by bribing state officials.

The KPK said that it encouraged the ministry to file a formal report to the anti-graft body should its investigation, currently underway, find an indication that corruption or bribery took place during the permit process.

"The KPK will coordinate with the Transportation Ministry to clarify the [AirAsia flying permit] matter. We need to know what it is about and whether it is subject to maladministration or subject to an indication of corruption," Mr Bambang said on Tuesday.

If later the KPK jumps in to investigate the alleged irregularities, which was described by former National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) investigator Ruth Hanna Simatupang as a jungle of irregularities, it will be the first crackdown conducted on the aviation sector.

"It (the flying permit) is just one of the problems in the jungle of our aviation system. There are a lot of problems that need to be fixed in our aviation system," Ms Hanna said.

Meanwhile, the transportation ministry and state navigation operator AirNav Indonesia suspended three more officials allegedly involved in allowing AirAsia flight QZ8501 to take off without a permit.

Transportation Minister Ignasius Jonan said that on Tuesday that the ministry suspended Juanda International Airport's head of safety and air-worthiness, who was also in charge of the airport's slot coordination.

"We not only ordered the suspension of aviation officials, we also imposed sanctions on officials at the ministry. We give no tolerance."

AirNav president director Bambang Tjahjono said that the operator had removed two top operation officials from their positions following the order by the minister to suspend officials deemed responsible for allowing AirAsia to take off without the correct permits.

"The removal was not because we found these officers guilty. This is only for the sake of the investigation," Mr Bambang said.

"If they are later found innocent, we will return them to their posts," said the former Transportation Ministry airport director.

PT Angkasa Pura I (AP I), the operator of Juanda International Airport, had previously removed its operation manager and apron movement control supervisor from their posts following the order from the ministry on Monday.

Flight QZ8501, carrying 162 people to Singapore from Indonesia's second-biggest city, Surabaya, was officially announced missing 2-1/2 hours after it took off at 5.36am on Dec 28. The government decided to suspend all AirAsia flights between Surabaya and Singapore, explaining that the flight lacked a permit.

AirAsia Indonesia was licensed to fly from Surabaya to Singapore every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. But in October, the airline revised its schedule to fly on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday without the required permission from the ministry.

Air Asia Indonesia safety and security director Achmad Sadikin previously denied that the flight was illegal.

Mr Jonan clarified that the ministry's action to immediately suspend the route was not aimed at blaming AirAsia's misconduct as a reason behind the crash.

"We will announce on Friday whether we found other airlines operating without proper permits."

Mr Jonan said the ministry would cooperate with the National Police's Criminal Investigation Division to follow up on the findings, given allegations of foul play surrounding the flight licensing.

The minister said he would also support the KPK launching an investigation into the ministry.

The ministry also denied earlier reports that it had suspended 16 flights, including those of AirAsia and rival airline Lion Air, for allegedly lacking flying permits.

According to Mr Jonan, the latest suspension only involved AirAsia's Palembang-Medan route.

Meanwhile, the ministry will revise tariff regulations for low-cost carriers in order for airline operators to earn sufficient income to improve safety.

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