Wednesday, March 07, 2007



The Indonesians are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. The cheapest way to get around the 17,500 odd islands that make up the country is by using the ferry service (ships plying the Indonesian seas). Now, we all know from the rather distressing frequent news of ferry disasters in Indonesia killing hundreds of people even last month and that is not the greatest way to travel. So, the next best option to travel (the only alternative means of transportation, I may add) is by air of course.

However, the year started off with two accidents/incidents related to Adam Air's Boeing 737's already (Adam Air is a private Airline) and the latest state owned national Carrier Garuda Airways crash of today the 7th March 2007 at Yogyakarta makes it three in three months. So, what does the average Indonesian do? Take chances with the devil or the deep blue sea?

It seems like a lose-lose situation for them. Not to mention the country is going through some very rough times due to frequent earthquakes (including two measuring 6.6 on the Richter scale and even felt here in Singapore by yours truly) and a Tsunami that changed the lives of hundreds of thousands.
What can be done? Firstly, the Indonesian Government must start walking the talk because each time there is an accident (in the air or by sea), they come out with bold statements about the need to reform the system and get things organized in a professional manner. In defense of Garuda, it may be said that they have had a somewhat good safety record and the last accident they had was in 2002 and their maintenance and operations standards are perceived as being better than the rest of the private flock.

Numerous accidents and incidents in aviation have occurred recently in Indonesia. While the jury is still out on the cause of these events, I may remind the reader of the two crashes of Adam Air this year. One reportedly in bad weather and the second one last month of the Aircraft fuselage splitting open and dangling after making a landing! The country's politicians made the usual noise about grounding all the 737's in Indonesia after these events but one could see them plying the skies later on.

Today's Garuda Airways (the National Carrier) crash happened in good weather and the cause may be known sometime later. The distressing thing is that the aircraft continued to burn for a long time after the crash and one could not see any real fire fighting activity to douse the aircraft. One wonders at the type and quantity of equipment they have (or do not have) to handle such situations.
They really need to pull their socks up and do something about improving air safety. It is a serious issue. Permits must not be given to all and sundry for operating decrepit old aircraft that need proper and professional maintenance frequently. Pilot training and standards for training all operations personnel must be improved with emphasis on dealing with any situational emergencies in a professional manner. Operators must be subject to proper audit of documents, upkeep and updating manuals and ensure the manuals are also up to International standards.

I believe that the authorities have a shortage of manpower to deal with the volume of work especially since airlines have mushroomed rapidly in the recent past and the Department of Civil Aviation has not expanded at the same scale to deal with so many operators and aircraft. Only with the use of proper training, proper infrastructure, increase in the number of trained aviation inspectors and proper maintenance practices can they succeed in improving the state of affairs. But, are they up to it? Is the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) up to it? Or are they sleeping too, while Indonesians suffer more mishaps? I just don't understand.

This article originally appeared on