Indonesia airline safety hurt by inadequate staff: Sources

Indonesia airline safety hurt by inadequate staff: Sources
A Trigana Air passenger plane arrives at Jayapura airport on August 17, 2015

MONTREAL/TORONTO - Indonesia scored poorly on a 2014 safety audit by the U.N. aviation agency largely because its Ministry of Transportation is understaffed, said two sources familiar with the matter, as the country struggles to cope with the expansion of air travel.

Indonesia's patchy aviation safety record worsened on Sunday when a passenger plane crashed in eastern Papua province killing all 54 people aboard, the third major plane crash this year in the Southeast Asian archipelago.

The U.N.'s Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) sets safety standards for international flights. Its audits evaluate countries' ability to oversee their airlines, including how well they conform to those standards.

Indonesia has struggled to hire and train staff quickly enough to oversee its fast-growing aviation market, which the International Air Transport Association expects to triple in size by 2034. "Until they resolve this they cannot do the same level of supervision and certifications as a country with a robust system in place," one of the sources said.

Since the 2014 audit, Indonesia has come up with a plan to address problems, the source said. "They have been very active in developing their plan," the source said. "They are making progress." But ICAO's auditors would not return to check on progress or run a fresh assessment until the majority of problems found in a previous audit have been fixed.

The ICAO did not immediately comment.

In January, an AirAsia flight went down in the sea off Indonesia, killing all 162 aboard. In June, more than 100 people died in the crash of a military transport plane, prompting the president to promise a review of the ageing air force fleet. "Earlier, I asked the transportation minister by telephone to continue to improve the safety systems and quality of service of our flights," President Joko Widodo told domestic media on Monday, although it was not clear if he was responding to the ICAO concerns.

The ICAO publishes audit scores online, but typically does not disclose the specific problems behind the scores.

In the audit carried out in May 2014, Indonesia scored below the average in all of eight categories. Most countries score above average in at least some categories.

Indonesia' lowest score was for "organization", at 20 percent, where the average was 64 percent. "Accident investigation" was 31 percent, compared with an average of 55 percent.

Its best score was for "airworthiness", at 61 percent, compared with an average of 74 percent.

But the audit did not flag any specific "significant safety concerns", the most serious problems. Thailand's most recent audit, for example, uncovered significant safety concerns, prompting several nearby countries to stop its airlines from adding new routes.

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