Don’t wait un­til for­eign firms take over


The Jakarta Post - Magazine - - Contents -

It’s in­ter­est­ing to ob­serve cur­rent civil avi­a­tion devel­op­ments as global com­mer­cial air­lines in gen­eral are facing sev­eral is­sues amid the global eco­nomic slow­down.

In In­done­sia, the num­ber of air pas­sen­gers recorded sig­nif­i­cant growth of be­tween 10 per­cent and 15 per­cent an­nu­ally from the 2000s to 2012. Sadly, the fan­tas­tic growth was ac­tu­ally a pseudo-ad­vance­ment of civil avi­a­tion in the coun­try. It was just a log­i­cal con­se­quence of dereg­u­la­tion that only in­creased the num­ber of air­line com­pa­nies and air­planes.

The growth in­volved no prepa­ra­tion of hu­man re­sources, in this case pi­lots, tech­ni­cians and avi­a­tion in­spec­tors, nor was there im­prove­ment of sup­port­ing in­fra­struc­ture for flight oper­a­tions. The neg­li­gence in the very ba­sic area of the man­age­ment pat­tern, which is com­pre­hen­sive plan­ning, has pro­duced fa­tal con­se­quences.

Up to 2007, so many air ac­ci­dents oc­curred in In­done­sia that the coun­try’s avi­a­tion safety was down­graded to Cat­e­gory 2 by the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion (FAA). Coun­tries grouped in this cat­e­gory have not com­plied with the In­ter­na­tional Avi­a­tion Safety Stan­dard as stip­u­lated in the reg­u­la­tion of the In­ter­na­tional Civil Avi­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion (ICAO). Par­al­lel to this, In­done­sian air­lines were later banned by the Euro­pean Union.

One of the in­di­ca­tions felt most by many peo­ple was when Soekarno-Hatta In­ter­na­tional Air­port (SHIA) ex­pe­ri­enced over-ca­pac­ity from 2005 to 2013, which peaked in 2014. At the time, flight de­lays lasted for 10 to 12 hours, cre­at­ing chaos with a lot of furious pas­sen­gers at the air­side and thus posing dangers to air­craft move­ment.

Un­der such panic cir­cum­stances, it was de­cided to re­open Halim Per­danakusuma Air base for com­mer­cial flights. The de­ci­sion has com­pletely failed to solve the prob­lem and even gave rise to many more quan­daries.

The com­mer­cial civil avi­a­tion

man­age­ment mud­dle in In­done­sia in fact stems from the widen­ing gap be­tween the grow­ing num­ber of pas­sen­gers and the pre­pared­ness of avi­a­tion per­son­nel as well as the back­ward­ness of in­fra­struc­ture to sup­port flight oper­a­tions. Prob­lem-solv­ing not ori­ented to root causes cer­tainly won’t over­come the ex­ist­ing com­pli­ca­tions.

While all air­line com­pa­nies are still short of pi­lots and tech­ni­cians to­day, the reg­u­la­tor, the Trans­porta­tion Min­istry, badly lacks avi­a­tion in­spec­tors. In the area of air traf­fic con­trol (ATC) ser­vices, al­though the ATC Sin­gle Provider was formed some time ago, the short­age of hu­man re­sources and lack of ATC equip­ment mod­ern­iza­tion has re­mained a ma­jor con­straint. The prob­lem is that be­fore the Sin­gle Provider was es­tab­lished, per­son­nel qual­ity and equip­ment spec­i­fi­ca­tions had not yet re­ferred to par­tic­u­lar stan­dards.

The form­ing of pi­lot cadres hasn’t pro­gressed prop­erly. De­spite pri­vate par­tic­i­pa­tion in or­ga­niz­ing a fly­ing school, there’s still dif­fi­culty in se­cur­ing trainer air­craft and flight in­struc­tors that meet the cri­te­ria re­quired.

Air­line com­pa­nies aren’t ready to make ad­just­ments in the avail­abil­ity of their pi­lots as they ex­pand their busi­ness by in­creas­ing their fleets. Un­der such con­di­tions, these com­pa­nies are inevitably re­cruit­ing many for­eign pi­lots.

Em­ploy­ing for­eign pi­lots seems as yet in­ca­pable of ful­fill­ing the com­pa­nies’ am­bi­tions to boost their flight oper­a­tions. As an in­di­ca­tion, al­though not easy to prove, many of their pi­lots have ex­ceeded the limit of flight hours as reg­u­lated.

This is, among other things, in­di­cated by the ar­rest of some pi­lots in­volved in the abuse of metham­phetamines. Un­healthy re­la­tions be­tween pi­lots and air­line com­pa­nies can also be no­ticed in the ban on avi­a­tors from join­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions. Some dis­putes be­tween pi­lots and their em­ploy­ers can’t be set­tled ei­ther and are be­ing taken to court.

All the predica­ments boil down to the lack of syn­chrony be­tween the busi­ness am­bi­tions and the pat­tern of avail­abil­ity of per­son­nel and in­fra­struc­ture. The same is true of air­craft main­te­nance. With sev­eral air­craft hangars in In­done­sia, heavy main­te­nance to meet the num­ber of air­lin­ers op­er­at­ing in the coun­try still re­lies on for­eign per­son­nel and fa­cil­i­ties.

This fact has af­fected not only flight safety but also the se­cu­rity and com­fort of air trans­porta­tion ser­vice users. The rel­a­tively fre­quent air ac­ci­dents and the many com­plaints about bag­gage losses at air­ports are two very ob­vi­ous field re­al­i­ties.

Mis­man­age­ment also in­volves the use of an air­port for com­mer­cial civil avi­a­tion. With the fo­cus on main­tain­ing an­nual growth

in the num­ber of pas­sen­gers, con­fu­sion in var­i­ous fields has taken place. In Jakarta, as SHIA has ex­ceeded its pas­sen­ger ca­pac­ity, some of its flights have moved to the Halim air base with­out tak­ing into ac­count the Air Force’s needs for its sev­eral trans­port and main­te­nance squadrons.

Halim only has one run­way and has no taxi­way, while its apron is very nar­row. At present, the flight sit­u­a­tion at Halim is re­port­edly no longer dif­fer­ent from that at SHIA, with air­planes of­ten hav­ing to wait for 30 to 45 min­utes to get their turn to take off and land.

The same hap­pens in Surabaya, where com­mer­cial flights use Juanda Navy air base, which of course has fre­quently trig­gered dis­putes with Navy flight au­thor­i­ties. Be­sides some other air bases used for com­mer­cial avi­a­tion, Hu­sein Sas­trane­gara air base seems to be the most dan­ger­ous lo­ca­tion. The Air Force’s largest air­craft main­te­nance place and the home base and the pro­duc­tion site of state-run air­craft man­u­fac­turer PT Dir­gan­tara In­done­sia (PTDI) has been opened as an in­ter­na­tional air­port with­out sig­nif­i­cant ad­di­tional fa­cil­i­ties.

With its apron close to the ter­mi­nal build­ing, which makes air­craft move­ment dif­fi­cult, the Air Force hous­ing com­plex and the Air Force of­fices at Hu­sein are al­ready threat­ened by re­moval to serve the pas­sen­gers and com­mer­cial civil avi­a­tion work­ers in Ban­dung.

The stirs aris­ing at Halim, Juanda, Hu­sein and sev­eral other air bases ba­si­cally orig­i­nated in the grave mis­man­age­ment of In­done­sia’s com­mer­cial civil avi­a­tion, which only seeks quan­ti­ta­tive growth of pas­sen­gers. Such growth pur­sued by us­ing or re­ly­ing on the fa­cil­i­ties of Air Force and Navy air bases ap­par­ently con­trib­utes to na­tional eco­nomic growth fan­tas­ti­cally, but on the other hand it has not only sac­ri­ficed na­tional se­cu­rity but has more cru­cially also threat­ened the safety of flight oper­a­tions them­selves.

An even greater prob­lem is ac­tu­ally loom­ing, which is the growth of the ASEAN free mar­ket and also the ASEAN Open Sky. If in due course the fac­tors of avi­a­tion safety and avi­a­tion se­cu­rity still fail to com­ply with the in­ter­na­tional stan­dards re­quired, the man­age­ment of cer­tain spheres will likely be taken over by for­eign par­ties. Many peo­ple don’t re­al­ize that com­mer­cial civil avi­a­tion in In­done­sia is a sub-sys­tem of the global air trans­porta­tion sys­tem un­der the ICAO.

If the takeover of cer­tain sec­tors in­volv­ing in­ter­na­tional safety and se­cu­rity stan­dards oc­curs, the great loss to be in­curred is imag­in­able. The coun­try’s large air trans­porta­tion mar­ket will keep grow­ing even faster, but the prof­its to be gained will flow over­seas.

Amid the govern­ment’s ef­forts now be­com­ing ap­par­ent to­ward fur­ther im­prove­ment, es­pe­cially the firm re­sponse shown by the Trans­porta­tion Min­istry as reg­u­la­tor of air ac­ci­dents, a great deal of work has yet to be han­dled. Of the many things the govern­ment has to pri­or­i­tize, its fo­cus is cer­tainly ex­pected to go to the main tar­get and af­fect the root cause of the prob­lem.

All the stake­hold­ers of na­tional avi­a­tion should work to­gether to find the best solution in or­der to get out of this cri­sis, so that the Repub­lic of In­done­sia can be ready to face the global chal­lenge now ap­proach­ing.

The writer is a re­tired air chief mar­shal and former chair­man of the Na­tional Team for the Eval­u­a­tion of Trans­porta­tion Safety and Se­cu­rity. He is an avi­a­tion safety observer.



Traf­fic con­trol: A worker with flight nav­i­ga­tion ser­vice agency AirNav mon­i­tors air traf­fic at Soekarno-Hatta In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Tangerang, Ban­ten. AirNav is up­grad­ing its nav­i­ga­tion fa­cil­i­ties to im­prove flight safety.

De­lays: Pas­sen­gers crowd in front of the in­ter­na­tional de­par­ture hall at Ngu­rah Rai In­ter­na­tional Air­port. Ash spewed by Mount Rin­jani on the nearby is­land of Lombok caused the can­ce­la­tion of hun­dreds of flights in early Novem­ber last year. JP/Agung Paramess­wara

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