Stop budget price war: Jakarta

Indonesia's Transport Ministry says it intends to stop budget airlines from selling seats at rock-bottom prices, in an effort to place a greater emphasis on aviation safety.

The lowest ticket prices for Indonesia-based budget airlines would be set at 40 per cent of the highest-cost fare, Transport Ministry spokesman Julius Barata said yesterday, according to South African newspaper, The Times.

"We want to prevent a price war so that airlines don't compromise on safety," he said. "We want to protect the public."

He was speaking in the wake of the crash of AirAsia Flight QZ8501, which plunged into the Java Sea on Dec 28 with 162 people on board. The plane had been en route to Singapore from Indonesia's second-largest city, Surabaya.

However, Herry Bakti Gumay, a former Indonesian civil aviation chief, said that safety standards at low-cost airlines were no different from those of full-service carriers.

"Safety is the basis for all airlines," he said.

Yesterday, Bambang Soelistyo, head of the country's search and rescue agency, announced that search teams had found the tail of the jet on the seabed about 30km from the plane's last known location, a breakthrough that investigators hope will lead to the crucial black box recorders being found.

Despite a huge recovery operation assisted by various countries, progress in the recovery effort has been patchy with poor weather conditions hampering the search. So far, 40 bodies have been found, including two which were in an advanced stage of decay yesterday, all of them floating in the sea.

Locating the tail had been a priority because the cockpit voice and flight data recorders that can provide vital clues on why the plane crashed are located in the rear section of the Airbus A320.

"I am led to believe the tail section has been found," AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes tweeted minutes after the announcement.

"If (it is the) right part of tail section, then the black box should be there... We need to find all parts soon so we can find all our guests to ease the pain of our families. That still is our priority."

Until investigators can examine the black box recorders, the cause of the crash remains a mystery, but the area where the plane was lost is known for intense seasonal storms. Indonesia's meteorological agency has said that bad weather may have caused ice to form on the aircraft's engines.

Indonesia AirAsia, 49 per cent owned by Mr Fernandes' Malaysia-based AirAsia budget group, has come under pressure from the authorities in Jakarta since the crash.

Yesterday, three more weekly flights operated by Indonesia AirAsia to Singapore were cancelled, reported The Straits Times.

With immediate effect, QZ367 from Bandung to Singapore will not fly on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. It is not clear when or if the flights will resume.

The Transport Ministry had already suspended AirAsia's Surabaya-Singapore licence, saying it had permission to fly the route only on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Flight QZ8501 took off on a Sunday.

Mr Fernandes, however, maintained that AirAsia had the required permission. "What happened was purely an administrative error," he said in an e-mail. "The process has become clear now."

The carrier has said it is cooperating fully with the ministry's investigations. That investigation would be completed by tomorrow evening, the ministry said yesterday.

Indonesia has also reassigned some airport and air traffic control officials who allowed the flight to take off and has tightened rules on pre-flight briefing procedures.

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