Indonesia, Thailand need to fix aviation issues, say experts

Indonesia, Thailand need to fix aviation issues, say experts
Thailand on March 30, 2015 said it "urgently" needed to improve airline safety procedures as several carriers face bans on new international flights after a UN aviation agency raised concerns.

It is not looking good for South-east Asian travellers, with two of the region's biggest countries in the spotlight for safety and other lapses.

To ensure safe flights and comfort, and to realise the full benefits of plans to liberalise the region's air travel market, Indonesia and Thailand must fix problems that have been highlighted by global bodies, aviation experts said.

The United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), recently highlighted "significant safety concerns" to Thailand's civil aviation authority after an audit of its carriers earlier this year.

No further details are available.

Thai authorities have vowed to "urgently" improve airline safety as several local carriers face bans on new international flights following the ICAO's alert.

Restrictions imposed by Japan are expected to hit Thai carrier NokScoot - partly owned by Singapore Airlines' subsidiary, Scoot - the most as it now needs to delay the launch of new scheduled flights to Japan.

Indonesia, the largest South-east Asian country, which accounts for about 40 per cent of the total population of the 10 ASEAN nations, has serious problems too.

Since 2010, the country has witnessed at least one major air accident a year, said global airline body, the International Air Transport Association (Iata). The latest was the Dec 28 crash of an AirAsia Indonesia flight from Surabaya to Singapore which killed all 162 people on board.

At an industry gathering in Jakarta last month, Iata director-general and chief executive officer Tony Tyler said to an audience, which included Indonesian Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan: "I am very concerned about safety in Indonesia."

Of the country's 62 airlines operating either scheduled or chartered services, only national carrier Garuda is on the list of airlines that have undergone and passed the association's safety audit, Mr Tyler said.

Infrastructure constraints is another big problem, he said.

By 2034, Indonesia is expected to triple its total passenger traffic to become the world's sixth biggest air travel market.

There is no masterplan and the country's airports "are in urgent need of additional capacity", Mr Tyler said.

The Indonesian government recognises the need for expansion and plans to build 62 new airports over the next five years, but the capacity problem in Jakarta is nowhere near being solved even with the terminal upgrades, Mr Tyler stressed.

The problems in Indonesia and Thailand do not bode well for the region.

As part of plans for ASEAN to operate as a single aviation market, which Singapore has been strongly pushing for, all 10 member nations, except for the Philippines, now allow neighbouring carriers to fly without any restrictions to their capital cities. Almost all restrictions have also been lifted for flights to other cities.

Professor of aviation law Alan Tan at the National University of Singapore said: "In truth, the problems of inadequate infrastructure - airports, runways, crewing, safety and air traffic control - affect many countries in the region.

"Infrastructural constraints at Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta Airport means that there is congestion and limited slots for new flights... This effectively impedes the process of liberalisation.

"At the same time, the boom in low-cost carriers in the region has added strains to pilot and crewing needs as well as safety and air traffic control management.

"These bottlenecks must be relieved to realise the full benefits of liberalisation," he said.

This article was first published on April 7, 2015.
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