19 Jan AirAsia crash highlights perils of region's crowded skies

Written by AFP Published in Regional Read 1846 times
Indonesian national search and rescue agency's (BASARNAS) crew lift up the ruins of AirAsia QZ8501 aircraft tail from the Crest Onyx ship, after it was hoisted from the Java Sea during their recovery mission at Panglima Utar Kumai Harbour in Kumai, Central Borneo, Indonesia, 11 January 2015. Photo: EPA/BAGUS INDAHONO
Indonesian national search and rescue agency's (BASARNAS) crew lift up the ruins of AirAsia QZ8501 aircraft tail from the Crest Onyx ship, after it was hoisted from the Java Sea during their recovery mission at Panglima Utar Kumai Harbour in Kumai, Central Borneo, Indonesia, 11 January 2015. Photo: EPA/BAGUS INDAHONO

JAKARTA (AFP) - While the causes of last month's crash in Indonesia are still being probed, experts say the final moments before the accident point to the perils of flying in a region where safety standards are struggling to keep pace with crowded skies.

Southeast Asia's aviation sector has enjoyed some of the fastest growth rates in the world in recent years, with Indonesian airlines in particular expanding rapidly, due to strong economies and an emerging middle class.

While observers believe most airlines have made progress in safety, they say the lack of well-trained personnel and decent infrastructure to cope with the increasing number of jets is a concern.

Mr Shukor Yusof, founder of Malaysia-based aviation research firm Endau Analytics, said that Malaysia and Singapore had kept up but others, in particular Indonesia, had not.

"They (Indonesia) really must spend more time and effort to develop capacities to handle this," he said, adding that areas including training, infrastructure and safety all needed attention.

Some analysts worry about the capacity of air traffic control systems to cope, although there is no indication as yet this caused the crash of the AirAsia jet, which went down on December 28 en route from Indonesia's Surabaya to Singapore.

"The real question is the professionalism of the air traffic controllers," said Mr Greg Waldron, Asia managing editor for industry publication Flightglobal.

Pressure on air traffic control was found to have contributed to the May 2012 crash of a Russian Sukhoi passenger plane into a mountain on Indonesia's main island of Java, which killed all 45 people on board.

Although much blame was laid on the pilot for ignoring alerts from the plane's warning system, the one overworked controller on duty in Jakarta was trying to communicate with 14 aircraft at the same time, according to a report from crash investigators.

Inadequate radar systems also failed to warn the plane that it was flying too low, as they should have done.

Another worry is a lack of trained pilots as airlines rapidly expand, Indonesian budget carrier Lion Air has in recent years made two of the world's largest plane orders, worth $46 billion.

Each plane needs five to six pilots, said Mr Waldron, describing the situation as a "real challenge".

The pilot of flight QZ8501 was highly experienced and used to fly military jets, but a lack of training has been blamed for other accidents.

This was the case when a Lion Air jet with a rookie pilot at the controls undershot the runway and crashed into the sea in Bali last year. The plane split in two, but all 108 passengers and crew survived.

Despite the concerns, experts stress that Indonesia has actually improved its safety record greatly in recent years following a string of fatal crashes.

All Indonesian carriers were banned by the European Union in 2007 but now a small number, including flag carrier Garuda and the Indonesian branch of Malaysia-based AirAsia, can fly to Europe.

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Last modified on Monday, 19 January 2015 11:01