Truth obscured on Indonesian air safety

Friday, 6 July, 2007

Ben Sandilands writes:

On the day Fairfax journalist Cynthia Banham leaves hospital after losing a leg and suffering serious burns in the Garuda crash at Yogyakarta on 7 March, the PM’s declaration that the airline is safe is exposed as a sham by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s own travel advisory service.

At first glance the Smart Traveller bulletin seems to back the PM’s week-old claim that Garuda is safe. Except that it goes on to explain that these claims of improved safety standards are sourced to Jakarta’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and are considered flawed by the US Federal Aviation Administration, and that the US — just like the EU — is advising its citizens to avoid Indonesian carriers if possible.

Smart Traveller could have been less tricky in its language, which like the PM’s claims, seem more concerned with Indonesian sensibilities than the safety of Australians.

There are no Indonesian airlines flying into US air space. If there were they would possibly suffer the same prohibitions applied to all of them by European authorities last week, which inspired the PM to leap to Garuda’s defence.

21 people including five Australians died flying Garuda at Yogyakarta but it is given the safest rating of category 1 by the Indonesian authority whom the Americans and Europeans agree has inadequate oversight of aviation safety.

Almost as absurd is Jakarta’s rating of Mandala Airlines, Lion and Adam Air as Category 2, meaning they meet minimal standards.

Previously they were in Jakarta’s Category 3, where they could theoretically risk being grounded. Very smart travellers who pursue the links provided by the DFAT advisory and explore the US assessments of Indonesian airlines will discover that these ratings are totally useless.

Hundreds have died on Mandala, Adam and Lion in recent years. You would only fly with any of them because of a compelling need or a view about the relative risks of travelling by road or taking an inter-island ferry.

Senior military figures are reported as having interests in Mandala, and Adam Air was co founded by Agung Laksono, the speaker of Council of Representatives or lower house in Jakarta.

The critical test for Indonesian air transport is how comprehensively it roots out corrupt and ineffective airline managements and government administrators under a pact recently struck with the International Civil Aviation Organisation ICAO to overhaul and reconstruct the safety of its carriers.

Until then, a non-stop flight to Bali from here, or connections to other points on non-Indonesian carriers via Singapore, Kualu Lumpur or further afield seems more like the advice DFAT should have posted up front, as the Americans already have.

Peter Fray

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