Orient Aviation www.orientaviation.com


Tom Ballantyne 

Europe and the US have banned its carriers because of safety fears; its aviation oversight authorities have been unable to cope with rapid growth. What has gone wrong with Indonesia’s airline industry?

The stark statistics tell the tale. In the past decade, Indonesian airlines have had 3.1 accidents per million departures, several times higher than the global average. In more recent times, it was even worse.

According to Dr. Budhi Suyitno, director general of the country’s civil aviation regulatory body, for every one million departures there are 3.77 fatal flights. The global average is 0.25. Dr Suyitno describes Indonesia’s safety record as “woeful”.

Since the beginning of 2005 there have been 19 reported commercial aircraft accidents, eight involving jet aircraft and seven resulting in 306 deaths. More than half the air accidents involved bad landings with aircraft skewing off the runway.

The worst accidents in the past two years were an Adam Air plane, which crashed off Sulawesi Island in January 2007, killing 102 people and, two months later, a Garuda jet which burst into flames on landing in Yogyakarta, killing 21 people.

It could get worse, warned Bill Voss, president and chief executive of the U.S.-based Flight Safety Foundation, because Indonesia is the third fastest growing aviation market in Asia, behind China and India.

“This dramatic increase in traffic could lead to even more lives lost, unless we all come together to solve these problems,” he said.

Voss has another telling point to make. It could take up to two years before Indonesia’s aviation regulatory body, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), achieves the standards required by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for adequate safety oversight.

“I would suspect if you go back and look at other countries that have been through a similar process, it is usually at least a two-year process to come up to ICAO standards after you have been identified as being deficient,” he said.

“Nigeria is an example. It was in a very similar situation and it’s been about two years to get it to Category 1 [meeting ICAO standards].

“We do continue to see reports of incidents such as runway excursions out of Indonesia, but it is not clear whether these are all being reported and whether they’re even being investigated.

“These are some of the things you see when there is this explosive growth and it catches the government flat footed. The path to catching up is a very difficult one.”

Industry observers agree Indonesia’s safety problems are the result of deregulation of the industry and rapid growth. An explosion in new airline operators in the past decade has left the DGCA unable to cope with the regulatory demands of the industry.

Infrastructure spending has failed to keep up with the traffic boom and the regulatory body, paying low civil service salaries, has been unable to retain experienced air worthiness inspectors or attract the growing numbers required to cope with searing manpower demand. 

The European Union (EU) black ban, imposed in July last year, lists 51 Indonesian airlines (both scheduled and charter operators).

  ‘This dramatic increase in traffic [in Indonesia] could lead to even more lives lost, unless we all come together to solve these problems’
Bill Voss
President &
Chief Executive

Flight Safety Foundation
Last year, they flew more than 32 million passengers through some 450 airports spread across the country’s hundreds of scattered islands, up from just 6.4 million in 1999. The DGCA forecasts that number will rise to 54 million passengers by 2010. In comparison, India, with four times Indonesia’s population, is carrying 27 million air passengers annually.

This growth has placed a tremendous strain on the ability of the DGCA to properly monitor airline and airport operations, let alone maintain adequate oversight in such areas as maintenance and training.

Action by Europe and the U.S. was hardly a surprise. An ICAO audit of Indonesian air safety systems early last year, following the Adam Air crash, found more than 120 serious flaws across the board, including the inspection processes for airlines and airports, a lack of budgeting for inspections and a lack of any system to monitor and analyse accident and incidents at airports.

There were also no mechanisms to guarantee the air navigation service provider recruited and retained adequately qualified staff or had training programmes and procedures to ensure the competency of air traffic controllers operating new equipment and updated communications systems.

While the difficulties are acknowledged within the country’s airline community, Orient Aviation found senior airline officials reluctant to make public comment or lay blame. Many officials of small operators were not available, or if they were, they refused to comment on safety issues.

Even Garuda president, Emirsyah Satar, who is chairman of the Indonesian Air Carriers Association (INACA), would not be drawn into any direct comments about the DGCA.

But senior sources inside the airline, currently the only Indonesian carrier to have passed the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) operational safety audit (IOSA), said Satar was appointed to head the airline body earlier this year in an effort to make sure the country’s many airlines were “working together on the same wavelength”.   

They made another point that underscores why the EU barred all Indonesian airlines from flying to Europe and why the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has also downgraded the country to safety category 2, meaning it doesn’t meet ICAO standards. This would also prohibit Indonesian carriers from launching services in the U.S. although there are no plans in the near future.

Garuda has 57 safety auditors working in various departments within the airline. The DGCA has around 40 to oversee the country’s entire commercial fleet of 220 aircraft. Jean-Pierre Ambrosini, an EU civil aviation expert based in Indonesia, said recently at least 100 inspectors were required.

Voss said Indonesia is having a great deal of trouble retaining personnel and appropriately compensating personnel to accomplish oversight. “This requires fundamental modification of civil service systems that are difficult for any country,” he said.

  ‘There are too many airlines in Indonesia, many with just four or five aircraft. It doesn’t make sense’
Emirsyah Satar
President & CEO, Garuda Indonesia
Chairman, Indonesian Air Carriers Association (INACA)
Satar points to another gaping flaw in Indonesia’s ability to handle its safety problems. “In Indonesia there is no national safety data base like in Singapore or Australia,” he pointed out. “Without a safety data base we cannot identify where the problems are. There is no measurement. How can we eliminate a safety problem without a data base? The aim must be to identify problems, avoid them and reduce them.”

He said there was no formal safety reporting system. Whether an incident is reported or not is up to the airline. Neither is there agreement on precisely what an incident is.

Garuda takes a conservative approach, according to Satar, operating its own detailed incident reporting system. “For example, if a passenger drinks too much and creates some disturbance, this is counted as an incident because that passenger could create a danger to other passengers. Other airlines may not count that as an incident,” said the president.

The problem, he said, is that “the more honest you are the worse you look because you are reporting more incidents than other airlines”.

INACA is pushing for a national data system, with the backing of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA). “But we have to standardise what an incident is and it has to be accepted by all parties. This is what we want to do in INACA. But it’s not an easy job. Even among AAPA airlines the standard is not the same and INACA members also have different views. Some report and some don’t want to report,” said Satar.

He said the industry, as a whole, has to admit there are discrepancies and work with the DGCA to plan improvements and move forward. “There are too many airlines in Indonesia, many with just four or five aircraft. It doesn’t make sense. We have to make sure that if someone is starting an airline they are committed to the industry and committed to safety,” said Satar.

Voss said having proper incident reporting processes is vital to identifying why there are so many accidents involving runway excursions. “My instinct is to look first at implementation of stabilized approach criteria and implementation of flight data monitoring. If I were the safety guy there I would go urgently in that direction because virtually every runway excursion starts with an unstabilized approach,” he said.

He believes there should also be an official “no-fault” go-around policy, under which no blame is aimed at the pilot if he aborts the landing and circles to try again. “You must have a no-fault go-around policy and that hasn’t always been clear in many places around the world,” said Voss.

“There are even examples around the world where the captain has to pay for the extra fuel used [there is no suggestion this is happening in Indonesia]. But government plays a role because you need to aggressively impose these flight data monitoring capabilities onto the airlines and make them say how many destabilized approach events are occurring and what steps are being taken in order to correct them.

“These are the kind of things we want to see the regulators doing, but it is hard to do when you don’t even have enough people [inspectors] on board and it’s very hard to retain them because you can’t pay them.”

There is no suggestion Indonesia is still ignoring safety problems. Neither is it short of help from outside sources.

ICAO, IATA, the AAPA and others are working closely with Indonesian airlines and the DGCA to resolve issues and find solutions. Last year, Indonesia signed a declaration with ICAO committing “prompt and wide-ranging action for improving the safety of its civil aviation system”.

Under the terms of the agreement it undertook to restructure the DGCA, enact the required legal framework to better meet international safety obligations, ensure the required human and financial resources and correct deficiencies identified by ICAO’s Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme and other internal or external audits. Indonesia and ICAO will meet before the end of this year to assess progress and to agree on further action.

The EU has an air safety expert based in Indonesia. The Netherlands, which has close historic links to the country, has also sent an official.

Australia has a number of personnel in its embassy, including transportation experts, working with the Indonesians on various air traffic safety and infrastructure issues (see separate story). Airservices Australia is among the most active of the foreign aviation authorities operating in the country.

IATA has expanded its Partnership for Safety (PfS) programme to include Indonesia, which aims to raise airline operating standards and improve safety.  It assists airlines to prepare for the IOSA, which is also available to non-IATA members. Seminars on best practices in operational safety and other aspects of air safety are being made available to all Indonesian airlines free of charge.

The FSF’s Voss believes the Indonesian government is more than willing to make the necessary improvements. “But you cannot underestimate the significant organizational task involved in just being able to accept and effectively utilize all of this assistance,” he said.

“Indonesia has been making progress in a number of areas, but this is a substantial thing to have to do ... the key to all this is [having] skilled and capable inspectors with good internal systems.”

Orient Aviation was unable to speak directly to the DGCA’s Dr Suyitno last month, but he has said in the past that the country’s safety record is unacceptable. “It is a never ending struggle to identify safety hazards and improve the aviation culture of Indonesia. As an island nation aviation is critical to connect and unite our people ... we must move from a reactive safety system to a proactive safety system. Our goal is to reach zero accidents,” he told a recent conference.

The DGCA has been taking action. Even before the EU ban was imposed last year, it introduced a safety ratings system for carriers and began issuing warnings that it would revoke licences and ground airlines failing to come up to scratch on the safety front.

In June last year, it pulled the licences of four small carriers -  Jatayu Gelang Sejahtera, Aviasi Upataraksa, Alfa Trans Dirgantara and Prodexim – and grounded five others, giving them three months to improve their safety standards.

They were Germania Trisila Air, Atlas Delta Setia, Survey Udara Penas, Kura-kura Aviation and SMAC, all of which operated turboprops carrying 30 or less passengers.

  Sriwijaya Air and Tri-MG Air. Category II safety rating means an improvement, but they are still not up to ICAO standards
According to industry sources, the DGCA grounded some airlines that weren’t even flying. Jatayu, for example, had not flown for six months, although it had plans to re-launch using a B737 jet.

In March this year, budget carrier, Adam Air, was grounded because of ongoing safety concerns and then, in July, five more small players were forced to halt flying. They were Helizona, SMAC, Asco Nusa Air, Tri-MG Intra Asia Airlines and Dirgantara Air Service. All were given three months to meet acceptable standards.

The latest review of national airline safety from the DGCA, issued in March, listed seven airlines as earning a Category I rating: Garuda Indonesia, Merpati Nusantara Airlines, Indonesia AirAsia, Lion Air, Wings Air, Mandala Air and Batavia Air.

Twelve airlines achieved Category II, meaning they have improved, but are not yet up to ICAO standard; Sriwijaya Air, Pelita Air Service, Trigana Air, Kartika Air, Travel Express Aviation, Riau Airlines, Trans Wisata Prima Aviation, Express Trans Antar Benua, Republik Ekspres Air, Megantara, Tri-MG Air and Manunggal Air Service.

The government also issued air operators certificates to six charter operators: Airfast, Travira Air, Indonesia Air Transport, Pelita Airlines, National Utility Helicopter and Premi Air.

Paradoxically, there is little evidence air safety concerns are deterring Indonesians from flying, or international visitors from visiting Indonesia. Domestic air traffic continues to grow at near double-digit levels. 

In the popular tourist resort of Bali, local tourism chief, Gede Nurjaya, told Orient Aviation the island’s visitor numbers rose 22.26% in the first half of this year, although he believed other areas of the country might suffer, with foreign tourists shying away from flying domestically. The EU ban contains a warning to travellers to stay away from local airlines. 

“The central government needs to conduct ongoing consultations and cooperate with the EU so that a way can be found to immediately overcome the shortcomings of the Indonesian airlines,” he said.

Indonesia’s major operators are already doing this. Garuda received its IOSA certificate in June and has put heavy emphasis on improving safety systems. Mandala Airlines, which has 30 A320s worth $1.8 billion on order, will almost certainly be the second Indonesian operator to be awarded an IOSA certificate. 

Warwick Brady, the airline’s chief executive, said documentation required for IOSA certification had been lodged with IATA in June. “The IOSA audit programme has focused all the team on creating a robust system that mitigates risk and provides the airline with an early warning system for future safety events,” he said.

“Together with audits from Airbus, Boeing, Kenyons and a number of oil and gas companies, Mandala is probably the most audited airline in Asia.”

While Garuda’s Satar and other leading airline officials would like to see the Indonesian government accept IOSA as a standard audit for all the country’s airlines, lobbying by IATA has so far failed to persuade Jakarta to do so.

Politics is part of the problem. When IATA approached Jakarta in March to adopt IOSA it was refused on the grounds that Garuda, already complying with the IOSA standard, was still banned by the EU. According to the government, this meant the EU did not accept the IOSA standard.

  ‘Garuda undergoes 16 or 17 audits annually, conducted by various customers and foreign regulatory bodies’
Capt. Novianto
Head of safety, Garuda Indonesia Chairman, INACA security and
safety commission
However, the EU ban is not directed at individual airlines, but at the regulatory authority of Indonesia, the DGCA. Under EU regulations an airline cannot supervise itself, but must be overseen by the DGCA. The EU believes the DGCA is not yet doing this satisfactorily.

This is not much help to airlines like Garuda, which wants to launch flights to Europe, although not until 2010. “We are a victim,” said Satar. “Right now we have done everything we can. We are IOSA registered and we have made four or five visits to Brussels for meetings with the Europeans to explain our point of view. Basically, we just have to wait. There’s nothing else we can do.”

Voss believes IOSA is only part of the answer. “I am a big supporter of the IOSA process. It adds a great level of safety and I take some comfort from that. I would certainly be less comfortable with airlines that haven’t passed IOSA and which are operating under a regulator that is not being viewed as up to international standards ... but IOSA is not a substitute for government oversight,” he said.

The Indonesian parliament is currently debating new aviation laws, but it could be months before changes are ratified and enacted. Indonesia now has a National Team for Transportation Safety and Security (NTTSS), set up to investigate the failing transportation infrastructure, particularly in the aviation sector. The six-man group is chaired by Air Marshal Chappy Hakim, a retired air force chief-of-staff.

There is already controversy about the direction Jakarta should take about safety legislation and practice. Hakim believes the National Transportation Safety Committee, which investigates airline crashes, should be separated from the transportation ministry, making it an independent body that reports directly to the country’s president.

At present, both oversight and certification of airlines is handled by a single body, the Air Safety Certification Directorate (DSKU) of the transportation ministry. The idea is to make the DSKU responsible only for certification and set up a separate independent body to handle oversight.

“There should be an independent body, because if an institution functions as a certification agency and overseer at once, there will be weaknesses,” Hakim told local media recently.

Government sources say such suggestions are meeting stiff opposition from the transportation ministry, which wants to keep all of these functions under its control. There is also a split among members of parliament about the best new structure for the regulatory body.

Amidst all of this, there is an argument that Indonesia’s leading carriers are now as safe as any in the world. Both Garuda and Mandala have undergone numerous safety audits by various outside agencies over the past 24 months.  According to Capt. Novianto Herupratomo, head of safety at Garuda – he is also chairman of INACA’s security and safety commission - the airline undergoes 16 or 17 audits annually, conducted by various customers and foreign regulatory bodies.

“Everyone is watching Garuda and there is pressure on the safety department. What can I say? They are our customers. The international community is watching Indonesia very closely at the moment. We understand that,” said Capt. Novianto.

“It is difficult to say we are good. We are not bad. We are OK. It’s much better to say, please come to Garuda and see for yourself.”

Capt. Novianto points to improvements in the number of incidents recorded by Garuda as it continued to strengthen its internal safety systems. In 2002, it was experiencing 1.04 incidents per 1,000 departures. In 2003, this rose to 1.09 and in 2004 to 1.11.

That was the year the airline began setting safety targets. In 2005, the number of incidents per 1,000 departures dropped to 0.94, in 2006 to 0.77 and in 2007 to 0.76. This year, to the end of June, the figure was 0.4.