President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, left, speaks with Transportation Ministry Budi Karya Sumadi, right, when inspecting the search and rescue operation center for Sriwijaya Air Flight 182 crash at Tanjung Priok Port in North Jakarta on Wednesday. (Antara Photo/Laily Rachev)

Sriwijaya Crash Dims the Spotlight on Indonesia's Aviation Safety Progress


JANUARY 21, 2021

Jakarta. Indonesia has enjoyed an elite status among the world aviation industry in terms of safety in the past three years until the Sriwijaya Air Flight 182 crashed on the Java Sea and took 62 lives on Jan 9.

Data from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) showed Indonesia managed to lower the accident rate among its scheduled commercial flights to zero in 2020, from almost 14 per one million flights in 2008. Between 2018 and 2020, the country's accident rate was even lower than the world's. 

Before the Sriwijaya Air accident, the country's last aviation tragedy was the Lion Air Flight 610 on Oct 29, 2018. But the accident happened because of the faulty instrument in the brand new Boeing 737-MAX that the airplane manufacturer failed to notice the pilots, instead of a lapse in Indonesia's monitoring of its airlines. 

So, the Sriwijaya Air crash took the authorities and observers by surprise. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo first reaction was an instruction to the transportation ministry to improve supervision on Indonesian airlines. After all, his ambition to make Indonesia a tourism juggernaut in Asia hangs on the country's airlines' reliability. 

"I want that safety to be the utmost priority in the transportation sector," Jokowi said on the sidelines of his visit to the Sriwijaya Air crash's search and rescue operation post at Tanjung Priok Port in North Jakarta on Wednesday. 

"I want that to be followed up by KNKT and the Transporation Ministry, particularly regarding inspection and supervision of airplanes for passengers' safety," the president said, referring to the National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) by its initial. 

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And the move to improve monitoring instead of a regulation overhaul might be more beneficial in the short term for the country's aviation industry. Gerry Soejatman, an Indonesian aviation observer, said the country's experience showed Indonesia would fare better by ensuring the current regulations were followed to a T.  

"Reactive steps taken in haste only worsen Indonesia's aviation safety [records]. You can see from the data that several steps were taken in 2015, in my opinion, were reactive and actually increased the accident rate by almost two times," Gerry said. 

"Following the [Lion Air Flight 610] crash, many pressured Indonesia to be as reactive as we were in 2014. But we had learned from experience. We did not alter our regulations but instead improving our surveillance capability," he said. 

Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi faced a challenge to balance airlines' interests that struggled to keep their business afloat amid cutthroat competition and slim margins, and the need to maintain air transport safety. 

"I think when Mr. Budi Karya Sumadi took over as the transportation ministry, we return to the common sense approach and the result is our accident rate quickly drop below the world's average," Gerry said. 

"Our main homework is how to maintain surveillance, monitoring, enforcement capabilities in aviation while relaxing policies on the commercial aspects," he said.