AirAsia crash: Indonesia orders checks on Airbus jets

File photo of an Indonesia AirAsia Airbus A320-200 passenger preparing to land at Sukarno-Hatta airport in Tangerang, Indonesia.
File photo of an Indonesia AirAsia Airbus A320-200 passenger preparing to land at Sukarno-Hatta airport in Tangerang, Indonesia.PHOTO: REUTERS

The rudder system of all Airbus A320-200 jets registered in Indonesia will come under the close scrutiny of aircraft inspectors, the Transport Ministry said yesterday.

The move comes after the failure of a similar component in the aircraft used for AirAsia Flight QZ8501 - known as the Rudder Travel Limiter Unit (RTLU) - was said to have sparked a chain of events that led to the fatal crash on Dec 28 last year.

There are 75 Indonesia-flagged A320-200 aircraft operated by three local airlines - Batik Air, Air- Asia Indonesia and national carrier Garuda.

The ministry's director of airworthiness and aircraft operations, Mr Mohammad Alwi, said 18 aircraft inspectors have been deployed to assess each of the planes.

Six of them started their rounds yesterday and he expects to complete the entire exercise, initiated to prevent a repeat of a similar crash scenario, by June next year.

Inspectors will evaluate all maintenance records before conducting a physical examination of the aircraft, said Mr Mohammad.

"Like a medical doctor, we will check the medical records first, going back three months or six months, before conducting a physical check on the trouble points."

However, the inspectors' attention will be focused on the RTLU, an inflight system that helps pilots control the aircraft rudder.

"Our inspectors will physically check the RTLU. We will open the panel, even if the records do not indicate any problem," he added.

The component of the jet used for the ill-fated AirAsia flight had a fault 23 times in 12 months. The technical issue surfaced again when the aircraft took off on its last flight from Surabaya to Singapore on Dec 28.

The plane plummeted into the sea, killing all 162 people on board, after the pilots lost control of the aircraft while trying to resolve a problem with the RTLU. The A320-200 was said to have gone into a violent roll or "upset condition", from which the pilots could not recover.

Questions were raised over the maintenance regime of AirAsia, as well as the actions of the pilots, after Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) made public the findings of its investigations into the crash.

Air-crash investigators from the KNKT discovered that cracked soldering had caused the RTLU fault and said AirAsia could have done more to prevent it from failing.

Another key issue was that the pilots had not gone for training to handle the aircraft in upset conditions.

Mr Suprasetyo, director-general for air transport, said yesterday the ministry has decided to require airlines to increase the frequency of upset recovery training for pilots from once a year to every six months.

"The ministry will also increase inspection on how airlines implement flight crew training that is consistent with the official operating manuals," said Mr Suprasetyo, who goes by one name.

Aviation experts whom The Straits Times spoke to, such as veteran pilot Shadrach Nababan, said the Airbus A320 family of aircraft is a sound model.

It is one of the manufacturer's best-selling models despite keen competition from the United States' Boeing and Canada's Bombardier.

In October, Airbus shares rose after the European aircraft maker posted sharply higher profits, adding that it would ramp up production of the A320 cash cow.

Its reputation, however, has not stopped Airbus from being sued by representatives of the families of 10 passengers aboard Flight QZ8501, who claim the plane maker is liable for their deaths.

Mr Floyd Wisner, the families' lawyer in Chicago where the suit was filed in June, had said then that AirAsia will be added as a defendant to the lawsuit.

Airbus and Mr Wisner did not reply to queries from The Straits Times at press time, but AirAsia Indonesia said yesterday that the carrier has "never been named as a defendant in that lawsuit".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2015, with the headline 'AirAsia crash: Indonesia orders checks on Airbus jets'. Print Edition | Subscribe