Air India, Malaysia Airlines, now AirAsia: Does Asia have an air safety issue?

Questions are being raised on the enforcement of air safety standards followed in Indonesia, from where QZ8501 began its flight, and whether the airlines have adequately qualified pilots to fly the rapidly growing fleets.

FP Staff December 30, 2014 12:55:38 IST
Air India, Malaysia Airlines, now AirAsia: Does Asia have an air safety issue?

The cause of the disappearance of AirAsia flight QZ8501 is still to be ascertained, with inclement weather currently suspected to have be responsible, but questions are now being raised about whether Asia's rapidly expanding airlines are going easy on safety regulations in order to cater to the growing demand for flights.

Questions are being raised on the enforcement of air safety standards followed in Indonesia, from where QZ8501 began its flight, and whether the airlines have adequately qualified pilots to fly the rapidly growing fleets.

An analysis in Bloomberg Businessweek  raises doubts over whether the pilot of the missing aircraft had adequate experience to fly the aircraft to the height that he had sought permission from the Air Traffic Controller to do and points to the fact that some low cost carriers may be overworking the limited number of pilots that they have.

Air India Malaysia Airlines now AirAsia Does Asia have an air safety issue

Reuters

Pilot error is also suspected to be the cause of the ill fated Air India crash in Mangalore in 2010 in which a Serbian pilot failed to act on his co-pilot's warnings while the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370 is also suspected to be the result of the pilot's actions.

A Wall Street Journal report notes that most Asian countries don't have the number of schools to provide airlines with pilots and airlines turn to expatriate pilots from Europe and US to fill the gap, but open the possibility for greater error. It also notes that even QZ8501 had a French co-pilot with a Indonesian captain and the integration of diverse cockpit crews is often a "big management challenge". it is also not certain that the airlines in their rush to meet demand are able to ensure it takes place.

However, apart from the functioning of airlines, the incident also places the spotlight uncomfortably on Indonesia's not so stellar record on air safety.

"This is the first incident for Indonesia AirAsia, but it will cast a spotlight once again on the entire industry," Greg Waldron, Asia Managing Editor at Flightglobal, an industry data and news service was quoted as saying in a Reuters report.

The report pointed out how a spate of fatal accidents in the 2000s that culminated in the crash of an Adam Air Boeing 737-400 on 1 January 2007, killing all 102 passengers on board, led to a blanket ban on all Indonesian-based airlines from flying to the European Union.

The report also points how the US Federal Aviation Administration had also around the same time stopped Indonesian carriers from increasing flights to and from the US, and the State Department cautioned American citizens about using Indonesian carriers on regional or domestic routes in the country.

While the EU ban was subsequently lifted, 13 serious incidents have been recorded since 2010 in Indonesia and in 11 cases the plane was rendered completely unusable.  As this Daily Mail article notes, there has been one major accident annually every year for the past three years and that ground based wind-shear detection systems to notify plane crew about such problems are not present in many airports in Indonesia.

The fact that pay for air traffic controllers, mechanics and regulators is lower than Asian standards and corruption is also widely prevalent among regulators aren't seen as very comforting either.

As the possibility of finding survivors from QZ8501 continues to reduce with the passage of time, the spotlight continues to be trained heavily on Asian airlines. Will the attention and tragedy at least ensure that safety is no longer compromised at the altar of profit?

 

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