How did the Australian Transport Safety Bureau office in Jakarta fail to discover that Yogyakarta Airport was in breach of safety standards at the time of the Garuda crash on 7 March 2007 in which 21 people were killed, including five Australians?

There’s increasing pressure on the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government to explain the ATSB’s incompetence in this matter.

Yesterday, Colin Weir, the CEO of Flight Safety Pty Ltd, revealed exclusively to Crikey that insurance claims and legal entitlements of Australian victims of the crash had been compromised by the suppression of information that the airport had failed to act on safety enforcement conditions set prior to the crash, making it effectively unlicensed.

On ABC radio’s PM program last night, Caroline Mellish, the sister of AFR Jakarta correspondent Morgan Mellish who died in the disaster, said she didn’t know the illegal status of the airport when she signed off on compensation from Garuda.

But the ATSB office in Jakarta should have known, and screwed up so badly that questions remain unanswered as to what Australia is achieving for its money in the corrupt and festering travesty that is the administration of civil aviation in Indonesia.

Late yesterday the following statement was made by a spokesperson for the Department of Infrastructure, which is responsible for the ATSB and related air transport matters:

The Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee (NTSC) is responsible for the investigation and reporting of transportation in the Republic of Indonesia. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has provided assistance to NTSC in relation to recent safety investigations.

Like NTSC, it has no role in the licensing and regulation of airports. The NTSC’s Final report concerning the GA 200 investigation was released in October 2007 and is available at here. The report did not conclude that airport deficiencies were responsible for the accident. The report, however, stated that the airport did not meet ICAO standards including the Runway End Safety Areas, Emergency procedures, services and equipment.

The Report provides advice concerning the effect of these deficiencies on the aftermath of the accident. Safety action to resolve these and other deficiencies identified by the NTSC report are matter for the Indonesian Directorate General of Civil Aviation.

Weir, who audits aviation safety for clients who send employees abroad, slammed the response as a smokescreen:

The Jakarta office of the ATSB went in after the accident to do an audit which they botched. They missed the fine print, and the fact that there was more than one page, to the actual airport operating certificate.

Had they done their job properly the truth would have been known.

Weir said a follow-up audit at Yogyakarta showed that contrary to official claims of remedial action nothing had been done, other than put a gate in a fence to allow faster access to the end of the runway where the jet, which was landed at twice the correct speed, tore through a field, over a ditch and into a dirt embankment.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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