Indonesia Records One Plane Mishap Every 10 Days

JAKARTA - YESTERDAY'S deadly runway accident has again put the spotlight on the dangers of travelling by plane, train, ferry - almost any means of public transport - in Indonesia.

Last year, official statistics revealed the startling fact that every nine to 10 days, an aircraft was involved in an incident.

Planes crashed, nearly crashed, missed the runway, were forced into emergency landings or had technical problems.

There were also two train crashes or derailments every month.

At sea, there were at least eight accidents.

Things have been no better since the start of this year.

On New Year's Day, a Boeing 737-400 belonging to budget carrier Adam Air crashed into the sea off the island of Sulawesi with 102 people on board. There were no survivors.

Around the same time, a ferry carrying 58 people sank off the coast of Sumatra, a speedboat went missing near Kalimantan and a train derailed in Central Java.

As if that was not enough, two other minor airline incidents were also reported.

Then, just two weeks ago, a fire on a ferry killed 53 people.

After that disaster, the Transport Ministry said it was considering replacing the director-generals in charge of both land and air transport, as well as many other senior officials.

The planned shake-up was announced even as a new government committee was in the midst of a review of current practices in Indonesia's transport sector.

The report is scheduled to be ready some time this month.

The panel was formed in January by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono after the country's dismal safety record last year showed no signs of improving this year.

Industry analysts and other experts said problems contributing to that record included ageing infrastructure, a growing demand for travel and a lack of trained workers.

More disturbing, however, was the frightening emphasis on profits over safety.

'The trains are very old...and there's a lack of spare parts. The attitude of our superiors is to make the best of what we've got, so we cannibalise the broken engines to fix the others,' a technician at Kota railway station in north Jakarta told the BBC.

In some cases, these problems could have been reined in by rules and regulations. Graft often ensured that they were not, experts said.

Analysts said yesterday's incident involving a Garuda plane that exploded after it landed in Yogyakarta underlined a wider problem: There is a distinct lack of safety culture in Indonesia's aviation industry in particular, and the transport sector in general.

Mr Bambang Susantono, head of independent think-tank Indonesian Transportation Society, said: 'That it happened to Garuda just shows that not all the problems in the aviation industry can be pinned down to the role of low-fare airlines.'

The budget airline business has taken the lion's share of the blame since it took off in a big way after the industry was liberalised in 1998.

Indeed, low-cost carriers accounted for about two-thirds of incidents reported on scheduled flights.

The BBC reported that 29 of Adam Air's pilots have resigned in recent years, and several have made allegations that the company pressured its pilots to fly unsafe planes.

Analysts and industry insiders say competition in the domestic market of around 32 million air travellers has forced many of the players to reduce fares by cutting corners in maintenance and crew training.

Mr Susantono noted: 'Our concern is that they cut costs by simplifying safety procedures.

'You hear stories about instruments not working, or pilots working long hours. It's a signal that something has to be fixed in the airline industry.'

But researcher Danang Parikesit of Gadjah Mada University's Centre for Transportation and Logistics Studies said that is not so easy.

'Clearly, the problems are not with how the industry develops commercially, but how the government can ensure that safety is not compromised,' he said.

Noting that Indonesia's aviation industry is already governed by the same strict international safety rules, he said: 'You can put in place as many rules and regulations as you want, but it would be useless if no one ensures that they are followed.'

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