Warning on crash risk at Jakarta airport

Allowing more flights increases chances of aircraft collisions, say air traffic controllers

JAKARTA • Indonesia's air traffic controllers have warned of an increased risk of aircraft collisions and accidents unless their workload is eased, even as the country's main Soekarno-Hatta International Airport struggles to cope with a huge expansion in air travel.

The Indonesian Air Traffic Controllers Association (IATCA) complained on Wednesday about the decision by state-run air navigation company AirNav to regularly allow 84 take-offs and landings per hour at the airport, which occurred during the Hari Raya Puasa exodus last month, The Jakarta Post reported.

"By allowing this, the chance of an accident will increase and air traffic controllers will be the ones who are blamed," IATCA Jakarta deputy chairman Andre Budi said.

He said some IATCA staff had since been re-assigned outside Jakarta, Tempo reported.

The group said the 84 hourly take-offs and landings were beyond the airport's handling capacity, and claimed that it also violates Transportation Ministerial Instruction No. 8/2016, which caps the use of the airport's runways at 72 aircraft per hour and four irregular flights for emergencies.

The IATCA's revelations came amid a string of reports of near collisions, with the latest taking place just last month. AirNav confirmed that two aircraft came close to colliding with each other on the runway of Soekarno-Hatta airport on June 18, a week before the Muslim festival of Hari Raya Puasa on June 25, The Jakarta Post reported.

Air traffic controllers had to order a Garuda Indonesia flight to abort its landing because a Sriwijaya Air aircraft, which had earlier aborted its take-off, was still on the runway.

Last year, two Lion Air planes collided on the ground at Soekarno-Hatta airport, with no injuries reported.

Soekarno-Hatta is one of the region's busiest airports, serving more than 55 million passengers last year, with 1,200 flights daily.

But the country received poor marks in a 2014 safety audit by the United Nations aviation agency due to insufficient staffing.

Mr Andre said most air traffic controllers would need more training to handle the high volume of traffic.

But he lamented a transfer of IATCA staff after they protested about safety risks from increased aircraft movements.

Jakarta IATCA chairman Ahmad Zakaria said in a release that the administrative sanctions given to members harmed "our efforts and commitment in improving the quality of Indonesian aviation safety", Tempo reported.

The IATCA has lodged complaints with AirNav and the directorate-general for aviation at the Transportation Ministry.

"We want the government to return to the pattern of 72 aircraft per hour to prevent accidents," Mr Andre was quote by The Jakarta Post as saying.

Responding, the Transportation Ministry said maximum flight frequency at Soekarno-Hatta had been increased to 81 take-offs and landings per hour to accommodate increasing demand.

"Demand has been growing. Therefore, flight frequency has had to be increased," director-general for aviation Agus Santoso said in a media statement yesterday.

AirNav corporate secretary Didiet K. S. Radityo said there was no violation of regulations as the Transportation Ministry had updated its instruction in No. 16/2017, allowing 81 take-offs and landings from July 20.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2017, with the headline 'Warning on crash risk at Jakarta airport'. Print Edition | Subscribe