Endless series of flight accident

Chappy Hakim

IO – Lion Air flight JT-610, a Boeing–737 Max 8, left Jakarta for Pangkal Pinang, but ended tragically in the Java sea, just north of Karawang. This event occurred on Monday morning, 29 October 2018, taking the lives of 189 souls, comprising both passengers and crew members.

We all mourn this tragic occurrence, and yet wonder why this accident could occur, despite current rapid developments in flight technology, particularly in the area of flight safety. It is fundamental in the world of flight that any aerial operation must be performed by competent, well-trained professionals, ones who work together as a solid team.

Another basic element is that flight requires steadiness and strict, uncompromising compliance with all rules, regulations, provisions, and applicable procedures, because it is related to human life and safety. This is why all flight activities require strict monitoring mechanisms. A violation of any applicable rule, regulation, provision, or procedure must be recognized and sanctioned accordingly.

Commercial Flight Issues
What is going on with our flights nowadays? Monday’s tragic event was only the latest in a long list of problems that have cropped up with our flights within the past 10-18 years. Indonesia’s commercial civil flight schedule grows rapidly every year, especially in terms of passenger numbers. Unfortunately, this passenger growth rate is not accompanied by similar efforts to prepare sufficient numbers of educated and well-trained flight human resources, according to needs. Meanwhile, available flight infrastructure in Indonesia also does not grow sufficiently rapidly to deal with the increased numbers of passengers. The growth of aerial passenger numbers every year did not take place suddenly, but gradually. Yet this has changed because of the rising trend of a “cheap flight” era around the world within the past two decades.

All of us need to understand that the cost of operating an airline is extremely high. This is due in part to the necessary steps and facilities required for flight safety. We need to strictly monitor airlines that sell tickets cheaply to ensure that the economy of the ticket price does not represent any compromise by cutting necessary safety costs.

Theoretically, we can reason that selling cheap tickets as a modern marketing strategy does not directly correlate with problems in flight safety. However, our observation of Indonesian flights shows that passengers consistently complain about the services of cheap airlines. They frequently go into rages because flight staff cannot explain to them properly why delays are so frequent and so long.  A graph of flight accidents also show that most accidents involve cheap airlines. It is hard for any layman not to correlate cheap tickets with bad service and a high potential for accidents.

Super-modern airplanes from this airline fell into the sea in Bali in 2013 and in Jakarta in 2018. There have been other accidents that required reasonable explanations of their causes. In the case of every major transportation accident, the agency with the authority to investigate their cause is the National Transportation Safety Committee (Komite Nasional Keselamatan Transportasi – “KNKT”). Unfortu­nate­ly, even now we don’t know what follow-up steps were taken after the investigation results are reported. This is caused by, among others, the fact that Indonesia does not have an official institution that can follow up on the results of investigations performed by KNKT about the causes of accidents. Such a follow-up might include sanctions and restrictions on relevant parties after violations are proven. One thing for certain is that our flights suffer from a lack of quality flight HR and infrastructure, both elements that can ensure flight safety.

The two major airports in Jakarta, i.e. in Cengkareng and Halim, have exceeded their designated capacity by thousands of passengers a day. There has been no study about the background and roots of excessive flights in Cengkareng – the management only “temporarily” moved flight slots from Cengkareng to Halim. This adds an extra civil flight slot burden on Halim, while Halim is actually a military airport never meant for civilian commercial flights.

Flight Management
The overlap of civil and military flight management is related to national safety. This issue was actually anticipated back in the 1950s. We have Government Regulation Number 5 of 1955 concerning the Flight Council. We quote the original text, which clearly explains the issue, as follows:

In the current situation, we feel that it is necessary to coordinate the politics of civil and military flights, both of which are inseparable from the State’s politics and economy.

We feel that it is no longer tenable that political conditions of flights in this era (whether civil or military) are maintained by either relevant Ministry (i.e. the Ministry of Transportation and the Ministry of Defense), even though such a condition is based on applicable Flight Law.

Therefore, in view of our country’s current run of flight accidents, there are two principal actions that we urgently need to implement:

  • First, we need to establish a court-like institution, perhaps something like a Flight Court, whose duty it is to follow up on the investigations performed by the KNKT, in terms of imposing “professional sanctions”.
  • Second, we need a Flight Council that provides inputs at a strategic level, in order for the policies decided upon concerning national flights do not result in major issues in the field instead.

In fact, if we continue to fail to provide sufficient attention to these two issues and other fundamental flight matters, it is likely that even more and more flight accidents will befall us.