The Directorate General of Civil Aviation has announced that all foreign airlines operating in Indonesia must comply with the country's aviation safety regulations. (Reuters Photo/Beawiharta)

Indonesian Pilots Take Off With Anger at Minister's Comments


JANUARY 05, 2015

Transportation Minister Ignasius Jonan reportedly chastised Indonesia AirAsia executives during his visit to the airline’s office in Tangerang, Banten, last week. (Reuters Photo/Beawiharta)

Jakarta. Pilots have protested against government officials' recent actions, which suggest that Indonesia AirAsia was at fault for alleged procedural violations, prior to the ill-fated flight that crashed in the Java Sea amid bad weather on Dec. 28.

Transportation Minister Ignasius Jonan reportedly chastised Indonesia AirAsia executives during his visit to the airline's office in Tangerang, Banten, last week.

He reportedly spoke in a high-pitch, angry tone after a director with Indonesia AirAsia, the local unit of Malaysian budget carrier AirAsia, suggested that it is not necessary for a pilot to have a weather briefing by a flight operation officer before taking off.

"When we have regulations, you must comply with them; don't attempt to violate them. I can revoke your license," Ignasius was quoted as saying by Indonesian news portal

Ignasius's reported outburst has drawn protest from Indonesian pilots, with some of them writing so-called "open letters" to the minister in response to his outburst and published the letters online.

Sardjono Jhony Tjitrokusumo, who is a senior pilot, called Ignasius's reprimand baseless, saying that it came from someone who does not have any knowledge of the aviation industry.

"Don't make things up and say pilots are at fault if they don't undergo briefing. It is not part of the required procedures [before taking off]," Sardjono said in a written statement sent to the press.

He said pilots commonly briefed themselves on weather conditions, which, in the case of Indonesia, are based on information provided by the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG).

"There is no such things as pilots being briefed before flight. Pilots of airlines around the world do self-briefings. They get printed weather information from systems used by their [respective] airlines; that information is provided before they fly," Sardjono went on. "Can you imagine if all pilots from all flights must be briefed on weather conditions by the BMKG? How many of them will have to stand in line for that? Where should they queue? "Don't be ridiculous, especially for those who have no knowledge of aviation."

Transportation Minister Ignasius Jonan speaking on Dec. 29, 2014. (Antara Photo/Lucky R.)

Ignasius was the executive director of state-owned train operator Kereta Api Indonesia before President Joko Widodo appointed him in October as Indonesia's new transportation minister.

Sardjono called on all parties to await results of the investigation into the AirAsia Flight QZ8501 accident by the National Committee on Transportation Safety (KNKT), and in the meantime refrain from commenting unnecessarily.

"The cause of the accident is not yet known. Wait patiently for the KNKT results," Sadjono said. "Don't suddenly become an aviation expert, as if you know everything about the industry. Please be wise."

Another open letter addressed to Ignasius was written by pilot Fadjar Nugroho, who said the BMKG had for some time now been allowing pilots to access weather information — which is constantly updated — on its website, and that the information is the same as that provided in a briefing.

"The Internet technology has allowed BMKG to provide [weather] information online on its website ... It is as good as [those provided by] similar agencies in other countries, which provide their products for free on the Internet. We can even see satellite images [on the BMKG's] website," Fajar said.

"Since weather information for flights became available on the BMKG's website, many of my colleagues — fellow pilots and FOOs [flight operations officers] — no longer need to come to the briefing office. Don't admonish us because we get weather information from the Internet; it is after all provided by the BMKG. As aviators, we appreciate human's lives ... our own lives, as well as those of the passengers and our families," he added.

Transportation Ministry spokesman J.A. Bharata on Sunday told the Jakarta Globe that the ministry would make briefings by an FOO a requirement, not just a preference, before take-off. He added that the new rule was not baseless because some pilots, including a senior one with Indonesia AirAsia who spoke to Ignasius during the minister's visit to the airline's office, said they preferred to be briefed by an FOO rather than do a self-briefing.

Ignasius told airlines to hire more FOOs if necessary, saying that passengers' safety must not be compromised for cost efficiency.


Sardjono questioned the Transportation Ministry's decision to suspend Indonesia AirAsia's Surabaya-Singapore route, following the directorate general for air transportation's finding that the ill-fated QZ8501 flew on Sunday, outside flying days for the route that have been previously approved for the airline for the October 2014 to March 2015 period.

Acting director general for air transport Djoko Murjatmodjo said the airline had been authorized to fly only four days in a week — Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

"It violated the route permit given, the schedule given, that's the problem," Djoko told AFP over the weekend.

"AirAsia's permit for the route has been frozen because it violated the route permit given."

Sardjono, however, argued that the plane could have never flown out of Surabaya's Juanda Airport that day, and to Singapore's Changi Airport without approval from the authorities in both Juanda and Changi.

"Even if it is outside the authorized schedule, the AirAsia flight on Sunday must have obtained a permit. [It flew] during a holiday season ... there must have been a flight approval for extra flights. That is part of [airlines'] Christmas and New Year holiday services," the senior pilot said.

Indonesian transportation observer Adrianus Dharmawan agreed, suggesting that even if the Indonesian officials might be more prone to conducting procedural violations, that could not be the case with Singapore.

"I believe the Singaporean authorities were not at fault. A flight to that country will never happen with a flawed permit."

"They are renowned for their strict adherence to regulations," said Adrianus, a former editor-in-chief of aviation magazine Angkasa, according to Indonesian news portal

Djoko said the permit for the route would be frozen until investigations were completed, and that the investigations included how Indonesia AirAsia managed to secure the permit to fly on that Sunday from Surabaya to Singapore.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore said it had granted permission for the airline's Sunday flight.

Indonesia AirAsia, meanwhile, has declined to comment until the probe is complete, but said it would "fully cooperate" with the government.

Before take-off, the pilot of Flight 8501 had asked for permission to fly at a higher altitude to avoid the storm, but the request was not approved due to other planes above him on the popular route, according to AirNav, Indonesia's air traffic control.

'Triggering factor'

In his last communication, Capt. Iriyanto, an experienced former Air Force pilot, said he wanted to change course to avoid the menacing storm system. Then all contact was lost, about 40 minutes after the plane had taken off.

The BMKG on Sunday said weather was the "triggering factor" in the crash of the flight with icing likely causing engine damage.

"The most probable weather phenomenon was icing, which can cause engine damage due to a cooling process. This is just one of the possibilities that occurred based on the analysis of existing meteorological data," the BMKG said.

The relief operation has prioritized finding the bodies of those on board the ill-fated flight with 162 people on board. As of Sunday, at least 37 bodies had been recovered.

The three major aviation tragedies that hit Southeast Asia's aviation sector in 2014, including the recent AirAsia plane crash, have raised questioned as to whether the agreement to liberalize the regional aviation industry this year — known as Asean Open Skies — would still proceed.

The other two tragedies last year involved Malaysia Airlines planes: the MH370 flight that disappeared from radar after leaving Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing in March, and the MH17 flight that was shot down over Ukraine in July.

Indonesian Transportation Ministry spokesman J.A. Bharata on Sunday said the Asean Open Skies agreement had come into effect as planned, on Jan. 1.

"We're currently revamping our airlines, evaluating their compliance with regulations to further improve passengers' safety," Bharata said.

He added, though, that the ongoing investigations did not mean a delay in the implementation of the Asean Open Skies agreement, and that they were meant instead to help the local aviation industry meet challenges brought about by the agreement.

Compliance with regulations will guarantee passengers' safety, and in turn improve competitiveness of Indonesian airlines in the regional aviation industry, currently dominated by airlines based in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

Indonesian officials earlier said that five of its cities — Jakarta, Medan, Surabaya, Denpasar and Makassar — were ready to fully open their skies for regional airlines as part of their participation in the open skies deal.

However, some local airlines earlier voiced their reluctance to join the single-market policy unless the government helps reduce airlines' costs by simplifying tax codes, curbing airport inefficiencies and reducing the cost of jet fuel.

Further Coverage

Editorial: Officials Shouldn’t Weather This Storm