The investigation into AirAsia flight 8501 has led to the discovery of airport irregularities and has prompted Indonesian authorities to suspend some airport officials and halt some flights pending further scrutiny of the events leading up to the loss of the plane and its passengers. The transportation ministry is closely reviewing the schedules and licenses of all airlines flying in and out of Indonesia.
One of the discoveries which has disturbed investigators significantly is the fact that AirAsia did not have permission to have even flown the route they were flying on the Sunday of the accident. Indonesia does not operate under an “open-skies” policy, meaning that airlines are not allowed to change or add flights without express permission. They are required to get permits for the routes they want to fly, and to apply for changes to the schedule to officials regulating those routes. AirAsia has authorization to fly the route to Singapore from Surabaya four days out of the week. Sunday is not one of those days.
There has been some confusion in the statements made by aviation officials about the legality of the downed flight. Civil Aviation director for the region, Praminto Hadi, made a statement indicating that the company did have permission to fly the route, but later recanted the statement, saying that he had made it in error and that AirAsia did not actually have the right to add the flight on that day. The lapse has been called a “serious violation” and has led officials to increased scrutiny of airport staff.
The investigation has prompted the suspension of the airport operator, as well as some of the other personnel at the facility, as an attempt is being made into how Air Asia could have been allowed to take off without the proper authorization to do so. A complete review of the policies and procedures is underway, as well as a look into the officials involved and whether this breach of protocol was an oversight or deliberate mismanagement.
All flights between Surabaya and Singapore have been suspended for the duration. Officials for AirAsia have released statements saying that they do not believe that they did anything wrong, but that they would cooperate fully with the authorities. They indicated that they would reserve comment until the matter had been reviewed completely and determinations made. Ignatious Jonan, Transportation Minister for the region, has indicted that depending on what is uncovered, sanctions against Air Asia could cover a range of possibilities, including the revoking of their right to fly that route or even the grounding of the entire operation.
There have also been concerns raised about procedures to make pilots aware of weather conditions in the area as well as along their flight path. On December 31, a mandate was implemented requiring carriers to give pilots current weather reports prior to departure, something currently left in the hands of those pilots to research on their own. The level of accountability for operators in place to ensure that this preparation is done is in question, along with many other questions of oversight and management. Reviews of repair schedules and inspections are also underway.
At this point, the suspensions have been few but significant. The international scrutiny is prompting a lot of scrambling to find someone or something to point blame at for the accident. The fallout from the loss of AirAsia flight 8501 may yet be far-ranging, and will at the very least bring about a close inspection of airport operational procedures which may prompt changes that make similar incidents less likely in the future.
By Jim Malone
Image courtesy of Joshua Sosrosaputro – Flickr License