2007 has begun for Indonesia with a string of tragic transportation accidents – from air crashes to ferry disasters - highlighting the problems that the country faced with its lack of investment in transport infrastructure.
The accidents have also been blamed on lax enforcement of safety regulations and poor maintenance. The series of air crashes – from the Adam Air plan that plunged into the sea on New Year’s day killing all 102 people on board to the more recent incident in which a Garuda Indonesia jet careened off a runway in Yogyakarta and burst into flames, killing 21 people – have shaken the confidence in the air links that bind the archipelago nation of 17,000 islands.
These various air disasters have stirred the US to advise its citizens not to use Indonesian airlines. Washington has downgraded Indonesian airlines' safety rating and Americans are advised to use other carriers when visiting the country, the US embassy here said in a statement. On April 16, 2007, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it has revised Indonesia's safety oversight category from Category 1 to Category 2. Based on the audit by Indonesian civil aviation agency which revealed that none of the nation's 54 airlines had met all minimum safety standards audit, the agency issued a warning to several airlines to comply with standards in three months or face closure. In response to the warning from US, Indonesia pledged to shut down airlines that persisted to flout safety markers. The Secretary General of Indonesian Airlines Association (INACA) expressed his concern that the warning might hit Indonesian airline industry significantly. On another occasion, Director General for Air Transportation – Ministry of Transportation Budhi Suyitno said that he tried to explain to the US embassy in Indonesia that although none of the country’s airlines fall into category 1, it does not mean that the airlines do not meet the safety requirements. He argued that all airlines meet the minimum safety standards.
The safety problems in Indonesia’s transportation system are not only those related to airplanes, but also the airports. Director General for Air Transportation said only half of 19 major airports in the country comply with international safety standards. The official said some airports were lacking adequate runways and air traffic control systems. He said his office would conduct an audit and the budget for airports had been increased. The 19 airports were currently allowed to receive local and international carriers, although only a handful actually see international flights, he said.
The transportation minister, Hatta Radjasa, said that the government plans to increase the transport budget by 50% modernize airports, seaports and railway systems within the next two years. Aging navigational radars and communication systems will also be replaced. He however also noted that Indonesia would need private-sector assistance in upgrading transport infrastructure, and revealed that the government is working to revise related laws on transport systems to accommodate private sector’s participation in the development of infrastructure.
Aviation legal expert H.K. Martono expressed doubts that the government would be able to meet its target of improving safety by 2009. 'Modernising the infrastructure and equipment requires a large amount of money,' he told The Straits Times. 'And it will be a stretch to expect the money to come from private investors, because the investment does not generate returns fast enough and there are legality issues still being discussed in Parliament as we speak,' he added.
Mr Oetargo Diran, spokesman for the government-sanctioned National Team to evaluate safety and security of transportation, also cautioned that improving safety is not just a matter of regulation and spending money to upgrade facilities, but also about “changing the prevailing culture of indifference”. (19 April 2007)
Indonesia’s revamp of transport safety standards welcomed (Straits Times, 19 April 2007)
Indonesia official says airports failing (AFP/ST, April 18, 2007)
Indonesia vows to act as US warns on flight safety (Reuters, April 17, 2007)
US warns citizens not to use Indonesian airlines (AFP/ChannelNewsAsia, April 17, 2007)
US warns citizens not to use Indonesian airlines (Kompas, April 18, 2007)
No ban for US citizens to use Indonesian airlines (Kompas, April 18, 2007)
Indonesian airlines put on notice amid safety drive (Antara, March 23, 2007)