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Sriwijaya Air Crash Puts Indonesia’s Poor Air Safety Record Under Fresh Scrutiny

2021-01-11 11:57:07

SYDNEY / JAKARTA – Indonesia & # 39; s poor flight safety record is back in the spotlight after a 62-person Sriwijaya Air jet crashed into the Java Sea on Saturday minutes after takeoff, marking the country's third major aviation crash in just over marked six years.

There is no report of survivors.

Before the crash, there had been 697 fatalities in Indonesia over the past decade, including military and private aircraft, making it the world's deadliest aviation market – ahead of Russia, Iran and Pakistan, according to the Aviation Safety Network database.

The crash of the Sriwijaya flight, operated by a Boeing Co 737-500, follows the loss of a Lion Air 737 MAX in October 2018, which contributed to a global grounding of the model.

The Lion Air crash, which killed 189 people, was an outlier as it mainly exposed fundamental problems with the aircraft model and triggered a global safety crisis for Boeing. Even disregarding the deaths from that crash, Indonesia would rank above Russia if there were no survivors from Saturday's crash.

Indonesia, an archipelago of thousands of islands, relies heavily on air travel, and its security concerns illustrate the challenge relatively new airlines face as they try to keep up with unstoppable air travel demand in developing countries while striving for standards that mature markets took decades to complete. to achieve.

From 2007 to 2018, the European Union banned Indonesian airlines after a series of crashes and reports of deteriorated surveillance and maintenance. The United States lowered its safety rating for Indonesia to Category 2 between 2007 and 2016, which means that the regulatory system was inadequate.

The track record of air safety in Indonesia has improved in recent years and received a favorable review from the United Nations Aviation Agency in 2018. But in a country with a high death toll from vehicle and ferry accidents, the safety culture is fighting a mindset that makes it inevitable for some crashes, experts said.

Saturday's crash "has nothing to do with the MAX, but Boeing would do well to guide Indonesia – which has a longstanding reputation for aviation safety – to restore confidence in the aviation industry," said Shukor Yusof. head of the Malaysia-based aviation consultancy Endau. Analytics.

Authorities on Sunday found the Sriwijaya jet's flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, but experts said it was too early to determine the factors responsible for the nearly 27-year-old plane's crash.

The flight took off from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta, the same airport from which the Lion Air jet departed and soon crashed into the sea. The Sriwijaya jet climbed to 10,900 feet within four minutes, but then began a steep descent and stopped sending data 21 seconds later, according to the tracking website FlightRadar24.

"There has been a lot of noise about the speed of the final descent," said Geoff Dell, an aviation accident research expert in Australia. “It's an indication of what happened, but why it happened is in many ways still a gamble. There are several ways you can lower a plane at that rate. "

He said investigators would investigate factors such as mechanical failure, pilot actions, maintenance reports, weather conditions, and whether there was any unlawful interference on the plane. Most airline accidents are caused by a combination of factors that can take months to complete.

Various factors under the microscope

Sriwijaya's operating results will also be examined.

"The safety record has been mixed," said Greg Waldron, Asia editor-in-chief of FlightGlobal industry publication. He said the airline had written off four 737s between 2008 and 2017 due to bad landings that resulted in runway overruns, including one in 2008 that resulted in one death and 14 injuries.

The airline ended a long-term partnership with national airline Garuda Indonesia in late 2019 and operated independently.

Just before the pact ended, media reports at the time had more than half of Sriwijaya's fleet grounded by the Ministry of Transport due to airworthiness issues.

Sriwijaya did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The airline's chief executive said on Saturday that the crashed plane was in good condition.

Like other Indonesian airlines, Sriwijaya had lowered its flight schedule during the COVID-19 pandemic, which experts say will be investigated as part of the investigation.

"The challenges posed by the pandemic have implications for aviation safety," said Chappy Hakim, an Indonesian aviation analyst and former air force official. "For example, pilots / technicians have been cut, salaries not paid in full, planes are on the ground."

(Reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney and Stanley Widianto in Jakarta; additional reporting by Matthew Tostevin in Bangkok; edited by William Mallard, Frances Kerry and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Photo: Rescue workers carry debris found in the waters surrounding the site where a Sriwijaya Air passenger jet lost contact with air traffic controllers shortly after take-off on Jan. 9, at the Search and Rescue Command Center at Tanjung Priok Harbor in Jakarta, Indonesia , in this photo taken on Sunday, January 10, 2021. The Boeing 737-500 took off from Jakarta to Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan province on the Indonesian island of Borneo, and lost contact with the control tower moments later. Photo credit: AP Photo / Achmad Ibrahim.


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