Indonesian Airline Safety

Jul 22nd, 2009, in IM Posts, Travel, by

EU lifts Indonesian flight ban, media and public wonder about the reality.

As reported widely in the media, the European Union has decided to reverse its ban on four Indonesian airlines, permitting Garuda Indonesia, Mandala Air, Airfast Indonesia and PremiAir to fly within EU airspace. Later in the week, it was reported that the EU might also un-ban Lion Air and the Indonesian subsidiary of Air Asia in the future.

Garuda Indonesia Logo Mandala Air Logo AirFast Indonesia logo PremiAir Logo
The approved ones
Air Asia Logo Lion Air Logo
Maybe the next ones.

However, as Mandala Air/Lion Air/Air Asia Indonesia don't fly beyond Asia and Airfast/PremiAir are charter airlines, this decision - while improving public perception -only practically affects the sole long-haul airline: Garuda. It has already announced plans to resume flights to Amsterdam, initially via Dubai with Airbus A330-300, then later a direct flight with a Boeing 777ER.


Ironically, the same day that the European Union agreed to reverse its ban on certain Indonesian airlines, the story of a past Indonesian air tragedy was broadcast on international TV.

National Geographic's TV channel (not the magazine) broadcast its regular Tuesday night schedule, which currently includes a show which explores past plane crashes and their causes: "Air Crash Investigation". As luck would have it, last Tuesday's episode was about the worst air disaster in more recent times: Adam Air Flight #KI-574, which crashed into the sea off the coast of West Sulawesi, killing all 102 passengers and crew.

If you missed it, you can watch it on YouTube. Here is Part 1:

Generally speaking, like other episodes it was well done with numerous interviews and fairly accurate dramatisations. While it wasn't fun to watch, some of the nice touches I enjoyed (sort of) seeing included:

  • - Those lovely orange and green uniforms faithfully recreated!
  • - The main Indonesian investigator, Frans Wenas, being portrayed as a chain smoker in the dramatisation
  • - A discussion of other past Adam Air incidents, including Flight 782 from Jakarta to Makassar. This one ended up over 500km off course (due to a similar radar/navigational failure) and made an emergency landing at Tambulaka Airport, on Sumba Island, East Nusa Tenggara province.


The top right flag: Makassar, Adam Air Flight 782's intended destination.
The bottom right flag: Tambolaka, where the flight landed after radar failure, over 500km to the south

I only noticed a couple of discrepancies with earlier newspaper and magazine reports of the crash and the cause.

  • - Whereas National Geographic said that Adam Air's pilot training was unsatisfactory and led to the crash, Tempo magazine carried a story in its April 7, 2008 edition titled "Everything Can Be Arranged" which suggested poor training was a national, industry-wide problem. It said that while Indonesian pilots have to be trained in a flight simulator every six months, corners would be cut; I quote:

In the past, eight pilots used to enter a simulator all together for one night. "Two would be training, but it's unclear what the others were doing," said Director-General of Air Transportation, Budhi Mualiawan Suyitno.

  • - NatGeo suggested that it was the subsequent crash landing of another Adam Air flight (Flight #292) in Batam (without casualties) and its botched evacuation that led to the suspension of its licence, whereas other reports suggested it seemed to be more to do with the outcome of the investigation into Flight 574.

So, while some Indonesian airlines now have the ability to fly to Europe, international perception of its safety record remains tarnished. Having said that, I flew Adam Air several times without incident on domestic flights.


What do you think? Has the EU partially lifting its ban changed your opinion of Indonesian airlines, and make you more likely to consider flying Garuda internationally? Or do you still have concerns about Indonesian airlines and airports, and if so what in particular?


26 Comments on “Indonesian Airline Safety”

  1. avatar David says:

    I can’t really work out why that flight diverted to Tambolaka, Tambolaka isn’t even on a lot of maps, like the Google Map above…is the airport there big?

    Tempo magazine carried a story in its April 7, 2008 edition titled “Everything Can Be Arranged” which suggested poor training was a national, industry-wide problem.

    You see it starts with being able to buy your motorbike or car license without a test….

    Still good news about the the European Union unbanning, although I think the EU just goes over the top with their committees for everything and shouldn’t be taken seriously, unless it hurts business, which in this case it did for a while, if only on one route.

  2. avatar Lairedion says:

    Too true about the EU. Interesting to know that some EU ministers have flown on banned airlines themselves.

    But Garuda only really can compete with SQ, MAS, Cathay and KLM once they have their brand new 777’s delivered. An old Airbus with a needed stop in Dubai and without proper on board entertainment won’t do the trick apart for some oversensitive Indo’s (in this context the Eurasians with bule ancestors).

  3. avatar timdog says:

    Patung:

    I can’t really work out why that flight diverted to Tambolaka, Tambolaka isn’t even on a lot of maps, like the Google Map above…is the airport there big?

    No, it’s tiny; really tiny. The “terminal” is a small, dusty concrete room that they only unlock when there’s an incoming flight. And it’s about an hour and a half from the nearest “town”, Waikabubak, which sure ain’t a town. It is surrounded by dry, empty, scrubby countryside. There is a little jetty where a few fishing boats moor, and where a ferry slithers in from Sumbawa once a week just down the road, but that’s it. The runway is not technically big enough to take a 737. Merpati lands a very rickety jet there – a Fokker, I think (it used to do the notorious Surabaya-Denpasar-Tambolaka-Waingapu-Kupang-Maumere milk run, one of the most delay-prone routes in all Indonesia, and one which I have had the pleasure of shuttling along a number of times…), but apart from that it’s only suitable for propeller craft…

    The story about the Adam Air plane that landed there is truly toe-curling. I may have a few minor details out in what I am about to relate, but I think I’m pretty much there:
    The plane – a 737 – took off from Jakarta heading for Makassar (which is a real airport, by the way). Its navigation equipment was broken. Adam Air was at that time routinely flying planes with faulty navigation equipment. In fact, around the same time there was a walkout of pilots after one of them was bullied into flying blind from Jakarta to Medan with no radar…
    Anyway, this particular plane got lost, disappeared from air traffic control tracking, and then suddenly appeared over Sumba, spotted the runway and called in requesting landing clearance, the pilot not really knowing where he was. The single controller at Tambolaka – who was probably having a quiet snooze at the time – understandably panicked and informed the pilot in no uncertain terms that he couldn’t land because the runway wasn’t big enough; “just watch me!” said Mr Adam Air and came roaring down onto Tambolaka’s strip of cracked, patchy tarmac with inches to spare.
    100-odd very confused passengers, who had been expecting to land in the biggest city in Sulawesi now found themselves herded into a shed in the middle of the bush in one of the more obscure and strange corners of the archipelago.
    The controller of Tambolaka airport was pretty much having a nervous breakdown at this point: he was used to light aircraft; now there was a bloody great orange jet squatting in his runway. He called his superiors in wherever they were (Denpasar or Jakarta, I guess), and was told that as the unscheduled landing counted as an “incident” the plane was required, under civil aviation law, to be impounded until air accident investigators could look into the circumstances.
    Quite how he was supposed to impound the plane with his miniscule staff, he wasn’t sure, but he informed the Adam Air pilot that the plane was impounded.
    However, in the meantime, the pilot had been pacing the runway with his mobile phone making what must have been a very uncomfortable call to head office – “Er… Boss, we’ve got a problem…” Adam Air management – evil sonsofbitches that they were, had a plan and told the pilot exactly what to do.
    When the airport controller told him that the plane was impounded, he replied that he could stick his impounding order where the sun don’t shine, clambered back into the cockpit, and fired up the engines…
    Ignoring the controller’s frantic barking over the airwaves, and ignoring the fact that the runway was really too short for his plane, he roared away, scraping over the scrubby bushes, and banked away towards Makassar, navigating by dead reckoning alone. I may be wrong about this, but I think they abandoned the passengers in Tambolaka, which is a lovely image to behold…
    Somehow, flying blind, the pilot now found Makassar, landed, and drove straight into Adam Air’s maintenance shed there where a team of otherwise woefully underused technicians were ready and waiting to patch up the radar before investigators could get anywhere near the plane.
    Bastards.
    And then there was the broken plane lying on the grass at the side of the runway in Surabaya after a heavy landing that they sent workmen to paint white in the middle of the night – totally illegal tampering with a crash scene (the bright orange wreck, in full view of every landing and taxiing plane, was, to be fair, atrocious advertising, but still – bastards!)

    Anyway, to address Chris’s question, things do seem to have improved, and I have no hesitation about using most of the airlines now – especially Mandala who have pretty much upgraded their whole fleet to new aircraft, and are doing their maintenance in Singapore… The only one I still shy away from is Batavia who were, a couple of years back, said to be scarcely better than Adam Air. They must have improved a little now, but a friend of mine flew Surabaya-Jakarta with them a couple of months back. The landing gear wouldn’t come down and the co-pilot appeared in the cabin and lifted a flap in the floor. “It sounded like he was hitting something with a hammer,” she said. I guess the landing gear came down eventually, but the story confirmed for me that Batavia perhaps ought to be avoided (though I have been told that they have the prettiest pramugari 😉 )

  4. I feel that the EU is quite serious about imposing bans on airlines that do not maintain safety and security standards. I have been working in Pakistan International Airlines as a Cabin Operations expert and can tell you that PIA was very close from being banned, but thanks to the IOSA certification we managed to overcome our defecencies. Indonesian Airlines must maintain their safety & security standards and need to form a panel of experts to ensure it. Getting certified by IOSA is not just it, maintaining the certification is the difficult part especially when the standards are constantly changing.
    I am taking an early retirement after 32 years from PIA, having still 08 years still to go. I would like to assist Indonesian Airlines in whatever way I can.

    Syed Shahid Ali

  5. avatar Chris says:

    I can’t really work out why that flight diverted to Tambolaka, Tambolaka isn’t even on a lot of maps, like the Google Map above…is the airport there big?

    I think it was where the plane ended up after navigational/radar failure. Perhaps they had to land somewhere because it was about to run out of fuel?

    I transited Tambolaka airport last month on my Merpati flight (originating in Kupang) from Maumere to Denpasar, and yeah – it ain’t big. But we were only 30 minutes late departing/arriving, which is apparently nothing by what Timdog says. It was a Fokker 100, with jet engines. The only other option – TransNusa (a Riau Airlines Fokker 50 turboprop) via Kupang – was sold out that day.

  6. avatar David says:

    Yeah I guess, I just thought once he realised where he was he could have managed to find a more suitable airport but if he was running out of fuel then this (which google maps tells me not all that trustworthily is T)

    must have looked better than it’s ever looked to anyone before…

  7. avatar David says:

    This is topical – http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia-pacific/2009/08/20098332343219514.html

    a Twin Otter owned by Merpati airlines, disappeared on Sunday on a 50 minute flight from Sentani airport near Jayapura, the capital of Papua province, headed for the town of Oksibil, near the border with Papua New Guinea.

  8. avatar Odinius says:

    I won’t get on the bidget airlines anymore, after a couple hideous journeys on Lion and Sriwijaya. Garuda or bust. Hopefully not Garuda and bust

  9. avatar Chris says:

    Personally, I have been lucky with airlines, and haven’t had any REALLY bad experiences. However, I wonder what is going on at Indonesia’s airports sometimes.

    My experience has been Ngurah Rai in Bali doesn’t check people’s belongings adequately for liquids, aerosols and gels. Maybe that is why it still doesn’t have ICAO certification…

    But my most disturbing experience was flying domestic from Soekarno-Hatta Terminal 1B.

    The TV screen disagreed with the boarding pass as to which departure gate to attend, and I managed to guess incorrectly and – after over-estimating the size of an announced flight delay before asking around – nearly missed the flight.

    However, what worries me the most is that – due to its system of scanning boarding passes on entry to the general depature gate area, rather than when entering the specific flight or departure gate – a passenger could enter the area (and exit again) without boarding the flight, and no one would know. Their baggage could still enter the flight without the passenger boarding the plane – which is very dangerous and illegal, as in the past terrorists have done exactly this to put bombs on planes.

    Has anybody else flown from Soekarno-Hatta Terminal 1B recently and can confirm (or correct) my suspicions?

  10. avatar Odinius says:

    Chris,

    They do check your info now at 1B, before letting you into the flight lounge. But unfortunately, it’s still wouldn’t be hard for a committed terrorist to sneaksomething on board. I think the one thing preventing that from happening is that Noordin M. Douche and friends appear to have very specific targets in mind (business hotels in Jakarta, tourist spots in Kuta or similar), and there don’t appear to be many other terrorists out there in Indonesia. But you’re right to point out that these are glaring holes in an already pretty bad security apparatus.

  11. avatar athenian says:

    Righteous Dude: Yep I can confirm that. Basically once you get into the gate, you can go in and out by just showing the boarding pass to the guard. I actually got in to the gate without a boarding pass because I told the guard that my grandma is traveling alone so I need to help make sure she’s okay with everything. The guards let me take her all the way to the airplane, and then leave. It was a few years ago and of course I wasn’t thinking that it was dangerous or anything cause I really was simply assisting my grandma, and I thought the guards were really nice to let me do that. But now that I think about it…holy fvck!! that is very dangerous!! another time when I was picking up my grandma and apparently the flight arrived late but the boards showed that it arrived on time, i started getting worried so I asked around and nobody seemed to know anything about this, so I asked the guard if i could come in to the gate to find my grandma, and told him he can come with me just to make sure I wasn’t messing around (I was really worried about this grandma of mine) and then he said, well you need to give me “coffee money for me and my friend here, cuz we can get in trouble doing this.” So I said yeah wahtever here’s your coffee money, are you coming with me and help me find her? they said no, so off I went all around the arrival gate until I finally found her.
    Holy fvck again… I wasn’t even supposed to be there in the first place. I mean, yeah my personal intention was good but a crazy terrorist could have done the exact same thing and might get away with it. They didnt even bother checking my purse or anything! now THAT is messed up.

  12. avatar Suryo Perkoso says:

    You can get in and out of a lounge in most places – the difference being that generally you are required to leave your boarding pass with security on the way out and collect it on the way back. The aircraft won’t take off without a head count, and you’ll note that even AirAsia Indo don’t offer free boarding and seating allocation becuase of the dificulty in finding the missing passenger amongst all those “Sri Dewi’s” and “Dewi Sri’s”

    For what it is worth, I had an aircraft stopped from takeoff at Changi because and Indian arse of a security guard had let a number of haji’s on the flight carrying zamzam, and tried to be clever when pulled about it. A quick word in the pilot’s ear had the whole lot marched back through security, and the guard was taken away by his boss.

    Surabaya isn’t too bad for security, they are reasonably careful, but in half the airports in the world security is poor – I take on average 40+ flights a year, and have had a craft knife refill blade inside the lining of my ancient briefcase for ages – I noticed it only when some money slipped down the back, and I found it there, so much for X-Rays and take the laptop out of the case at every scan.

  13. avatar athenian says:

    Suryo: Yes, Im aware of that.. The different is they didn’t even scan or hold the pass when we were going in and out. We just have to “flash it” in front of the guards and they give us “ok” gesture. I do this all the time, they never check… not once.

  14. avatar Suryo Perkoso says:

    You miss the point, if the head count hadn’t tallied, then the aircraft would have sat on the ground – if a terrorist could get as far as the boarding gate, then surely they would use the same ID to just board the aircraft? Why bother with yours?

    Always best to carry your own bomb in anycase, the chances of there being two bombs on the same flight are almost non existent.

  15. avatar floresgal says:

    In my recent travels around the islands, “airport security” checks the Europeans carefully while letting Indonesians through. After many years in this country, I’ve had it with how badly run everything is and how a chronic lack of governance, policy, or law has made Indonesia an international joke as a nation. Jakarta is a case in point–air, water, sewage disposal, traffic, poverty, absurd priorities… The lack of concern for public good is appalling. I won’t take flights on Indonesian airlines again. These slipshod companies don’t deserve to fly within their own national borders, let alone cross those of nations which do maintain some standards. Indonesia forever spirals lower, like a rudderless ship without controls.

  16. avatar kayperth says:

    I think garuda pilots need to be re-trained on how to land smoothly…. the landings always seemed too rushed and a huge last second drop and thump onto the tarmac…

    i really wish airasia would start flying to balikpapan as it would solve my concerns..

  17. avatar Oigal says:

    Always best to carry your own bomb in anycase, the chances of there being two bombs on the same flight are almost non existent.

    I dunno, I watched a pretty lack-lustre movie the other day but the bit where the “inside man” got all thirty bombers onto the same bus by changing the message to the evil ones every so slightly was a classic. The orginal plan being 30 bombers on different buses all over America to blow up at same time blah blah.

    The look on the other 29 bomber faces as the Allah is great was yelled out..(Poor Bus driver tho)

  18. avatar madrotter says:

    bloody hell i’m flying sriwijaya malang-jakarta tomorrow and reading all this stuff doesn’t make me feel a lot better… i gotta do the bandung-malang trip often now the bus takes forever and so does the train…

  19. avatar Chris says:

    Hi Madrotter,

    Selamat jalan!

    MALANG-JAKARTA
    According to the Malang Airport page on Wikipedia, Batavia Air and Garuda also fly the Malang-Jakarta route. Would you feel better on either of those?

    MALANG-BANDUNG
    The Bandung one says there are Bandung-Surabaya flights on Sriwijaya and Merpati. Maybe you could get a bus from Malang to the Surabaya bus terminal Purabaya/Bungarasih, where you can a Damri airport bus (Rp10 000) and take a flight from there.

  20. avatar madrotter says:

    matur nuhun dude!!! the first few times i just went to jakarta without booking anything pretty disasterous the last time it took me 14 hours traveling, just landed in jakarta after a pretty good flight actually, i’m going to check out those links you gave me, thanks! this is great! got a little tip too, i’m staying in this really sweet homestay close to bhakti luhur, the place i’m active it’s called enny’s homestay, owned by this 80 something lady who speaks fluent dutch and english, every morning she and her dutch 83 year old girlfiend who’s been here for 62 years join the guests in breakfast, very, very nice atmosphere, its close to jalan raya dieng… maybe i’ll do another post about bhakti luhur i got really very close with some of the kids these, they really are an amazing bunch…

  21. avatar bs says:

    wow, is Enny still running the place? I stayed there a couple of times (few years ago).
    It’s quite ok if you stay clear of her little boutique.
    Dieng is not that interesting, but the MM angkots stop in front of Enny’s and take you to the centre in a couple of minutes. If you need to buy tickets in Malang, try Pasopati on jln Basuki Rachmad (near toko oen), they will issue tickets immediately instead of having you come back the next day.

  22. avatar David says:

    there are Bandung-Surabaya flights on Sriwijaya and Merpati.

    Not cheap though, if I’m not wrong the Surabaya-Bandung leg was 700,000 or something like that, the reverse leg was about half that I think.

  23. avatar Chris says:

    And unfortunately both Sriwijaya and Merpati are the only two airlines without online booking; the latter has online reservation, but then you still have to go to the Merpati office for payment and ticketing.

  24. avatar madrotter says:

    jup enny is as active as ever! there’s not a lot to do at dieng but bhakti luhur is a 2 minute walk from enny’s, i got my sriwijaya ticket there at no extra costs, they dropped it at the hotel, pretty neat!

    did you mention a street with booksellers recently bs? would love to know where that is!

    coming back to bandung, even after only a week was a bit of a culture shock, big parts of bandung now resemble a war ravaged city roadwise, the traffic jams are horrible, the taxi drivers ask for outlandish prices so fxck em i took an angkot, in malang taxi’s have a minimum price of 20.000 and they always put the meter on, something most taxi drivers in bandung mostly refuse to do… malang could do with a few nice cafe’s though, the place dies after 9 o’clock, although there’s a nice restaurant with live jazz close to tugu…

    not that bandung is much better these days, braga has become a slum sometimes it still can be reasonable in the nordseabar but it’s often empty, cloud9 is great on sundays and some week days but overcrowded with jakartans in the weekends, the discotheques are either horribly sleazy or they’re full with very young rich kids

  25. avatar Chris says:

    Update from today’s Jakarta Post:

    Batavia, AirAsia all clear for Europe flights, says government
    ( http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2010/07/02/batavia-airasia-all-clear-europe-flights-says-government.html )

    Here is an edited version of the text:

    Two more Indonesian airlines will be granted permission to fly in European airspace since they have surpassed safety requirements imposed by the European Commission, an Indonesian government official says.

    The commission would announce this month that the ban on passenger flights to Europe by Batavia Air and AirAsia would be lifted, Air Transportation Director General Herry Bakti S. Gumay told reporters on Thursday.

    The two airlines will follow four other airlines that have already received permits since the ban on all Indonesian airlines flying in European airspace was imposed in July 2007. The four airlines are Garuda Indonesia, Mandala Airlines, Airfast Indonesia and PremiAir.

    “Batavia and AirAsia will have to wait until the Commission’s decision to be approved by the EU parliament in two weeks from now,” Herry said.

    Two weeks ago, Herry Bakti along with airlines representatives visited Brussels to seek approval from the EU aviation commission to remove Batavia Air, AirAsia and Lion Air from the flight ban list.

    The commission has agreed to lift ban only on Batavia and AirAsia, while Lion Air must fulfill further requirements.

    “As a company, Lion is very progressive in its business, so the commission wants to know about its preparations for flying to European countries,” Herry said.

    Herry also said the commission’s assessment had nothing to do with the fact that the entire Lion Air fleet were planes produced by the US-based Boeing Company, and not its European competitor, Airbus.

    “The important thing for the commission is safety,” he said.

  26. avatar Scove D. Veinn says:

    Oh.. The Video is not available.. The mechanical inspector should inspect before the plane lunch to flight.. That safety measure that I can assure to the plane company

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