AirAsia flight QZ8501: Seven officials suspended over flight approvals

Muslim clerics praying in Pangkalan Bun yesterday before being flown by helicopter to the site where the plane is believed to have crashed. There, they said a prayer for those who lost their lives.
Muslim clerics praying in Pangkalan Bun yesterday before being flown by helicopter to the site where the plane is believed to have crashed. There, they said a prayer for those who lost their lives.PHOTO: REUTERS

Indonesia has suspended seven officials over their suspected links to unscheduled flight approvals, which may include allowing Indonesia AirAsia to fly the QZ8501 Surabaya-Singapore route on Sundays, for which the airline has no permit.

Upping the ante yesterday, the Transport Ministry said it would work with the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to get to the bottom of the matter.

"We will also support if the KPK is involved in the investigation into time-slot transactions," Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan told reporters.

The seven included two from the Transport Ministry, two from Surabaya's international airport operator PT Angkasa Pura I, and three from state navigation operator AirNav Indonesia.

The officials have been "deactivated", said Transport Ministry special staff member Hadi Djuraid. He did not say if the seven officials were involved in helping Indonesia AirAsia flout its route permit, which allows flights only on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

AirNav Indonesia, however, has denied that its officials have taken bribes to allow airlines to alter their flight schedule.

There is no big money involved, and "if there is, we will act", its safety and standard director, Mr Wisnu Darjono, was quoted as saying yesterday.

"They are clean," he added, referring to the organisation and its air traffic control personnel. "Look at their dull faces. Not possible for them to have lots of money."

Angkasa Pura general manager Trikora Hardjo similarly denied any wrongdoing. "I will prove that Juanda Airport has not received even 1 per cent," he was quoted as saying, referring to the airport in Surabaya. "I am very sad when my child asked me, 'Papa, how much did you receive?' "

Mr Jonan yesterday said Air- Asia boss Tony Fernandes "admitted AirAsia has no route permit" and accepted the decision to suspend the QZ8501 route.

In the Java Sea, recovery teams had another difficult day yesterday, retrieving only two more bodies to bring the total to 39 so far, and were unable to locate the all-important black box.

Speaking in Pangkalan Bun, the commander of Indonesia's armed forces, General Moeldoko, said he saw for himself how difficult conditions were at sea after his inspection of the area. He again offered to help families of the victims to visit the crash site any day to scatter flowers and view search operations.

chengwee@sph.com.sg

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