· Carriers in Indonesia and Russia on no-fly list
· Crackdown on 'flying coffins' hits African routes
Dan Milmo, transport correspondent
Friday June 29, 2007
All Indonesian airlines have been banned from flying to Europe in a safety crackdown that has also placed several carriers from Russia, Ukraine and Angola on an aviation blacklist. The ban was imposed following a series of accidents involving the country's aircraft that have included two fatal crashes since the New Year which killed a total of 123 people.
The national airline of Indonesia, Garuda, and the 50 other airlines registered in the country, will be kept away from the EU, although no Indonesian carriers at present fly to the continent.
Jacques Barrot, the EU transport commissioner, said: "Once more, the EU blacklist will prove to be an essential tool not only to prevent unsafe airlines from flying to Europe and to inform passengers travelling worldwide, but also to make sure that airlines and civil aviation authorities take appropriate actions to improve safety."
The ban could affect the Indonesian tourist industry, with Europeans being warned not to use the country's airlines. Travel agencies selling package tours involving carriers based in Indonesia are required to inform customers that the nation's airlines are blacklisted.
Holidaymakers who have booked flights with blacklisted carriers through tourist agents will receive a refund.
EU officials said poor maintenance and operating standards, as well as the slow reaction of Indonesian aviation authorities to demands for better standards, had contributed to the ban.
The Indonesian airline market was deregulated in the 1990s and its safety record has been chequered ever since, with fatalities on some flights. Scores of low-cost airlines have been established.
David Learmount, operations and safety editor at Flight International, said Indonesia was one of the few examples where deregulation of the airline market had lowered safety standards rather than raised them: "Standards in aviation safety have been going up dramatically on a worldwide basis, but there are still places where they are [of the standards of] the 70s and 80s. In Indonesia the safety watchdog was told earlier this year to pull its socks up, but the EU is clearly convinced that it has not done so."
An EU official, referring to the national regulator's failure to heed warnings that a ban was imminent and that reassurances were needed, said the Indonesian civil aviation authority was "not very reliable".
Indonesian officials claimed that, despite the recent crashes, airline safety was improving, according to data not seen by the European commission.
US authorities have also warned the Indonesian aviation regulator this year, leading to the US federal aviation authority downgrading Indonesia's rating.
The EU added that TAAG Angola Airlines and Ukraine's Volare Aviation would be added to the no-fly list. Following consultation with the EU, Russia has also banned four of its airlines and placed restrictions on six others. Bulgaria has also grounded six cargo carriers, while Moldova has banned eight carriers.
One of the companies most recently affected by a flight embargo, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), had its ban partly lifted yesterday. The airline will be allowed to fly certain Boeing 747 and Airbus 310 planes, while its entire fleet of Boeing 777s remains free to travel. The latest banned list will come into force at the end of next week.
African airlines have been the worst affected by the EU clampdown on what Mr Barrot calls "flying coffins". All airlines flying from Equatorial Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Swaziland, have been banned from the continent since last year, plus all but one of the 51 airlines operating out of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Other blacklisted carriers include the state carrier of North Korea, Air Koryo, and Reem Air of Kyrgyzstan. Alongside PIA, the most high-profile airline affected by the stringent EU standards is Thailand's Phuket Airlines, a carrier that flew thousands of British tourists to Bangkok but failed safety tests last year. Yesterday's announcement brings the total number of airlines banned by the EU to about 150.
Indonesia racks up fatality rate of 15 times world average
Flying in Indonesia can be a worry. The number of airlines, since deregulation of the sector in the 1990s, has reached a total of 51, and there has been a sharp rise in deadly incidents: the fatality rate is now 15 times the world average. Ticket prices may have been driven down by brutal competition to as little as $10, but the drawbacks are obvious. Indonesia's air safety record is among the world's worst.
Travellers' blogs warn of ageing aircraft showing much wear and tear, and of sloppy maintenance. Poor runways, patchy radar, lack of experienced maintenance staff and the need to hire pilots from all quarters, have exacerbated the problems.
One blogger, responding to yesterday's move by the EU to ban Indonesian airlines from flying to Europe, highlighted some of the problems - from pilots moonlighting for smaller airlines, to aircraft in the air and more than 20 years old. "I think Wings Airways has the best motto, painted in big letters on their planes, 'Fly is Cheap'," the blogger wrote. Another recalled the equally unsettling motto of Lion Air: "We make people fly."
Hair-raising tales of hard landings and kangarooing aircraft are legion. One flier reported a pilot trying to land in a paddy field before pulling out of the descent at the last minute and aligning to the runway.
In the past two years, 280 people have died in disasters that analysts attribute to infrastructure failing to keep pace with new services. The mix has produced a string of mishaps this year already. On New Year's day, an Adam Air budget flight disappeared from radar off Sulawesi and 102 people died. Another plane of the same airline had a "hard landing" and broke its "back", though no one was injured.
In March, a Garuda flight from Jakarta to Yogyakarta crashed and caught fire on landing, killing 21.
The same month Indonesia's transport ministry ruled that none of its airlines met international safety standards. The seven airlines that ranked lowest, including Adam Air with its fleet on average 18 years old, were given three months to smarten up their act. Yet just ahead of yesterday's EU decision the government cleared all but one airline, which lost its licence. Only Garuda was put in the top tier; the others were placed in the second category considered necessary to meet minimal international safety standards.
The airline industry
List of airlines banned from UK airspace
International Air Transport Association