Why It Matters

Air safety lags behind growth

Rescue team members carrying bodies of the victims of the crashed Trigana Air at the crash site near Oksibil, Bintang Mountains district, Papua province, Indonesia.
Rescue team members carrying bodies of the victims of the crashed Trigana Air at the crash site near Oksibil, Bintang Mountains district, Papua province, Indonesia.PHOTO: REUTERS

Sunday's crash of a Trigana Air plane with 54 people on board is the third in eight months after two other plane crashes in the country with higher death tolls, casting further doubt on Indonesia's ability to turn its poor aviation-safety record around.

A suspected engine malfunction caused a Hercules C-130 military plane to slam into a Medan neighbourhood in June, killing more than 100 people. In December last year, an AirAsia plane crashed into the Java Sea in stormy weather. All 162 people on board died.

The crux of the matter is whether Indonesia's airlines and aviation officials adhere strictly to air-safety rules and, in the latest case, whether proper aviation facilities are available in far-flung regions of the country.

While Indonesia has embarked on airport expansions across its archipelago and its carriers have added routes to meet demand from its increasingly affluent population, its aviation-safety standards have not kept pace with the changes. International audits cite weak safety oversight. There is also a shortage of well-trained pilots.

Some remote areas such as Papua, a mountainous province in eastern Indonesia, pose higher risks.

Said aviation analyst Gerry Soejatman: "In Papua, the aviation issues are a different ball game... there is a serious lack of support facilities."

He cites frequent electricity disruptions that shut down radar operations and dangerous breaches into runway zones by people and animals.

Outdated navigation facilities and weather- monitoring stations are also inadequate to capture the fluid weather changes in Papua.

Analysts say these issues will take years to sort out, especially given the limited facilities.

Indonesians have credited former banker Ignasius Jonan with turning around the state-owned railway company before he became Transport Minister last October. Many are now hoping that he can do the same for the aviation sector.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2015, with the headline 'Air safety lags behind growth'. Print Edition | Subscribe