Aviation safety in Indonesia continues to be a significant and developing story. How else do you explain the country’s Minister of Transportation coming to the Paris Air Show in support of an order of two 737-900ER aircraft from Sriwijaya Air (plus 20 options on MAX aircraft)?
Ignasius Jonan has only sat at the helm of Indonesia’s Transport Ministry for a few months, but he is wasting precious little time in effecting change across the country’s aviation industry. It is not that the rules need to be changed; it is that the enforcement has been lax, something he expects to see changed. In a conversation with Airways News on the sidelines of the show Mr. Jonan was quite blunt about the challenges, “The rules and regulations and ICAO standards have been there for ages. It is just a need for a very disciplined implementation for the airlines, the airports and all stakeholders.”
With more than 200 airports scattered across the islands, Indonesia is highly dependent on air service. Seventy-three airline companies were operating at the end of last year when he was appointed. Today that number is down 20 percent, to only 57. And, as Jonan explained on the sidelines of the Paris Air Show, “I believe that toward the end of July, we will also announce some existing airlines and air charters that cannot comply with the safety [rules].”
Jonan also made it clear that financial stability is a critical factor in the safety of the airlines. An airline with financial concerns might be tempted to cut corners, a risk he is not willing to accept.
Similarly, Jonan believes that fleet size – and ownership by the airline – is a critical factor for ensuring safety standards are followed. Indonesian law requires a minimum of 10 aircraft in a fleet, of which five must be owned by the company. Neither of those rules is likely to change anytime soon.
“The start-up, if they only operate two or three aircraft, is very sensitive and very dangerous. They might have less focus on regular maintenance because the aircraft has to work without any chance to have a schedule for maintenance,” said Jonan. He also points out that 10 planes is still very small for an airline and as such, should not be an undue burden for a carrier.
Jonan respects that the responsibility for safety does not fall only on the airlines. He has committed the Transportation Ministry to upgrade runways at 237 airports to ensure that they can be used by either an ATR-72 or a 737. This is a massive project, but it is not one which he sees running interminably. The official timetable calls for it to be completed by the end of the decade, but Jonan wants it even faster, “I hope it will materialize within three years.”
It is too early to declare the efforts a complete victory for safety reform in Indonesia. But certainly shutting down a quarter of the companies allows for better oversight and enforcement of the ones that remain.
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The challenges to Indonesian air safety is indeed one of the will of enforcement and the tackling of endemic and systemic corruption. Cultural problems also lay at the root of the problem. It is interesting to juxtapose neighboring Australia’s Qantas airlines which has NEVER had a fatal JET aircraft accident/loss. Their last fatal accident was 64 years ago! Truly the distance betwixt Indonesia and Australia is not so far that they couldn’t learn a thing or two about aviation safety. However, until the cultural and corruption hurdles are overcome all bets are off on buying a ticket on an Indonesian-registered carrier.
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