Don’t wait until foreign firms take over
THE GROWTH INVOLVED NO PREPARATION OF HUMAN RESOURCES, NOR WAS THERE IMPROVEMENT OF SUPPORTING INFRASTRUCTURE
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