Transportation Minister Ignasius Jonan checking the condition of a public bus, in Jakarta on Monday. (Antara Photo/M. Agung Rajasa)

Minister Flexes on Airlines in Push for Greater Safety


MARCH 25, 2015

Transportation Minister Ignasius Jonan checking the condition of a public bus, in Jakarta on Monday. (Antara Photo/M. Agung Rajasa)

[This story was first published at 11:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Mar. 25, 2015, and this update adds info graphic on aviation officials]

Jakarta. The government is moving ahead with its plan to announce a safety ranking next month for airlines operating in Indonesia and to impose minimum fleet size of 10 planes by July, in a bid to improve the country's air transportation safety ahead of a high-profile international inspection.

Most of the country's airlines are still banned from flying in European and US air space, following a rash of aviation incidents, many of them fatal, during the breakneck growth of the sector in the past four years.

"We will definitely go ahead with the safety ranking and announce it to the public next month, so it will become transparent," Transportation Minister Ignasius Jonan said on Wednesday.

He added his ministry would freeze the air operator's certificate of airlines that failed to meet safety standards or the minimum fleet size. The 2009 Air Transport Law requires an airline to have a fleet of at least 10 planes — five planes of its own and five leased.

"The airlines that cannot meet the minimum fleet size should merge. They can hardly do any regular maintenance if they only have a few planes to operate," Jonan said.

The announced measures, however, have been greeted with skepticism by aviation industry analysts

Gerry Soejatman, an aviation industry consultant, said the Transportation Ministry should leave the ranking to market research firms to conduct, and should limit itself to simply labeling airlines as safe or unsafe.

The issue of forced mergers, too, is also seen as poorly thought-out.

"Any merger must create additional value," said Arif Wibowo, the chairman of the Indonesian National Air Carriers Association. "It doesn't make sense for an airline to merge with another and not benefit from it at all."

Arif, the chief executive of flag carrier Garuda Indonesia, said that airline operators in Indonesia tended to stick to their investments no matter how unprofitable, simply because of the prestige that owning an airline bestowed on them.

'Far from perfect'

Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan posed during a media visit to BeritaSatu Media Holdings' office in Jakarta. (SP Photo/Ruth Semiono)

Jonan, formerly the chief of state-owned railway operator KAI, is racing against time to improve Indonesia's air transportation safety, with the European Aviation Safety Agency scheduled to inspect on Indonesia airlines in May.

"I admit we are far from perfect but we are improving," Jonan said.

He said his ministry was tightening regulations, improving supervision systems, and trying to boost salaries of inspectors.

In office for less than five months, Jonan has already issued 112 new regulations on air, land and sea transports, or about two-thirds of the regulations he says is needed to close the loopholes in the country's tangle of transportation rules.

"Transportation Ministry regulations in the past rarely included any sanctions," Jonan said.

Another pressing issue, he added, is the need to improve compensation for the pilot inspectors who regularly check the airworthiness of aircraft before they fly.

"These are pilots who have the same qualifications as their peers working in airlines. But they're paid Rp 4 million [$309] a month — less than railway crossing guards in Jakarta, who earn Rp 6 million," the minister said.

"The government grades salary based on academic degree and experience. A pilot's degree qualifies as a three-year college degree in the government's regulation, but their flight hours aren't regarded as experience."

The biggest test of Jonan's short time in the ministry has been the aftermath of the crash of AirAsia Flight QZ8501 in the Java Sea on Dec. 28. The plane, believed to have stalled during a steep ascent to avoid bad weather, was later found to have been flying on a route — Surabaya to Singapore — for which the operator lacked a permit.

AirAsia group chief executive Tony Fernandes called on Tuesday for the airline to be allowed to fly the route again, but Jonan said he would only consider it if air crash investigators cleared AirAsia of any wrongdoing resulting in the accident.

Airline operation inspectors in Indonesia are underpaid. (Source: Indonesia's transport ministry)