SINGAPORE: Indonesia’s air safety record is again being called into question after a passenger jet burst into flames Wednesday, killing dozens of people in the country’s second aviation tragedy in nine weeks.
At least 49 people were killed when the Boeing 737-400 belonging to national carrier Garuda exploded as it landed at Yogyakarta in central Indonesia, officials said.
The accident “reinforces the view that the culture of safety is almost non-existent in Indonesia,” said Shukor Yusof, an aviation analyst with Standard and Poor’s equity research in Singapore.
“Given the frequency of airplane accidents there, it also poses questions to investors on the potential for any form of investment into the low-cost carriers that are growing in that country,” he told AFP.
The accident occurred barely two months after a Boeing 737-400 owned by low-fare carrier Adam Air with 102 people on board crashed into the sea off the island of Sulawesi on New Year’s Day, leaving no survivors.
Last month, Indonesian authorities grounded all Boeing 737-300 aircraft operated by Adam Air after the fuselage of one of the planes cracked during a hard landing, although none of the 148 passengers and six crew was injured.
A former Adam Air pilot, Sutan Salahuddin, in January accused the firm of forcing pilots to fly aircraft lacking safety clearance or with malfunctioning parts.
Singapore-based analyst Shukor said Indonesia needs to overhaul its aviation safety procedures, otherwise more such accidents will take place.
“It is not the age of the aircraft. It is the lack of personnel who are trained to look after those aircraft... If the government does not make any serious decision on how to overcome further disasters, I think it’s just a matter of time before the next accident happens.”
Tom Ballantyne, chief correspondent of industry magazine Orient Aviation, said: “I think there’s certainly a need for higher safety standards in Indonesia.”
The challenge is magnified by the entry of smaller players as the Indonesian aviation industry is increasingly liberalised, but they do not have the finances to ensure strict implementation of safety standards, he said.
There is also a lack of capable inspectors and safety operations experts within the government to ensure that no one is cutting corners, he said.
“You can’t check an airplane once in every six months. You need regular checks to look at maintenance procedures and make sure they are (on par with) world standards,” Ballantyne said.
Ballantyne said however that Southeast Asia’s safety record in general has been comparable with that of the rest of the world.
Even budget carriers like Malaysia’s AirAsia are operating like the major airlines in terms of safety and they work closely with their aircraft manufacturers, he noted.
Albert Tjoeng, a regional spokesman for the International Air Transport Association (IATA), told AFP it was premature to speculate on the cause of the Indonesian plane crash.
Without commenting directly on Indonesia, Tjoeng said safety is the “number one priority” of the air transport industry.
“This fact does not change regardless of business models, fluctuations in fuel costs, labour and ticket prices. The goal of maintaining safe operations remains constant,” he said.
All IATA member airlines, including Garuda, will have to undergo the “IATA Operational Safety Audit”, or IOSA, by the end of this year and be on its registry by the end of 2008, Tjoeng said.