Why are there so many air accidents in Indonesia?

The accident a few days ago that left 62 people dead raises the question
Atalayar_Boeing 737 max

AFP/STEPHEN BRASHEAR/GETTY IMAGES  -   One of the two sensors measuring the angle of attack, which caused the accident of the Boeing 737 MAX in Ethiopia

The crash of the Sriwajaya airline plane last Saturday off the Indonesian coast with 62 people on board puts the spotlight back on the high number of air accidents on this Asian archipelago. 

According to data from the Aviation Safety Network, Indonesia is the most dangerous country in Asia to fly in after 104 civil air accidents with 2,301 fatalities since 1945. 

This trend in accidents had led the European Union to impose a ban on Indonesian airlines between 2007 and 2018 due to unresolved safety issues, similar to the one the US decreed between 2007 and 2016. 

Lack of investment

According to Shukor Yussof, founder of the analysis company Endau Analytics, Indonesia is suffering from a lack of investment in infrastructure in a country where the aviation sector is growing fastest and where more airlines operate throughout Southeast Asia. 

In a territory whose geography gives air transport a major role, this growth is not being followed by improvements in airports, staff training centres and aircraft maintenance centres. 

"There is only one aircraft maintenance centre recognised by the EU and the US for international flights. It is owned by Garuda, the state airline," says Yussof, whose company is based in Indonesia and Malaysia. 

The expert also believes that there are not enough training centres for pilots and flight personnel and recommends that the country follow global standards for both domestic and international flights. 

Human errors

According to expert Agus Pramono's report in the Journal of Advanced Transportation, air crew management failures were significant in 74 percent of accidents and incidents on commercial flights between 2007 and 2015. 

For the author, air crew training is one of the keys to these human errors and the lack of communication among the crew has played a key role in most of the non-fatal air incidents analysed in the study. 

"Incident and accident investigations often indicate that crew training was insufficient in the area of personnel management and needed to be addressed," the report states. 

Geography and climate

Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands located between the equator and the tropics, suffers from extreme weather events, such as typhoons and tropical storms, which sometimes affect air safety. 

According to the Pramono report, "the unique combination of high rainfall and mountainous terrain" is a factor in the high number of air accidents and incidents. 

In 58 per cent of the incidents analysed by this researcher, weather phenomena had been one of the triggering factors.

This is a particularly high number compared to other countries: in the USA only 8 percent of the incidents were weather-related while on a global scale the percentage is between 21 and 26 percent. 

Atalayar_Boeing 737
AP Photo/Michel Euler - A Boeing 737 MAX, makes its demonstration flight at the Paris Air Show, at Le Bourget, east of Paris, France
Safety culture

"Not enough attention is paid to trying to establish a safety culture in society," explains Yussof, who believes that low safety standards in road and maritime transport are sometimes reflected in air transport. 

"A lot of investment is needed. It is partly a question of education. You have to educate society and for that you have to invest," says the expert, who sees this as a cultural problem throughout Southeast Asia with particular virulence in Indonesia. 

Improvement

Nevertheless, safety standards have improved in the Asian country, which explains the lifting of the EU and US veto on Indonesian airlines. "Compared to ten years ago, they are much better off, but there is still a lot of room for improvement," says Yussof. 

The UN aviation safety agency gave Indonesia a favourable assessment in its 2018 report. 

Other accidents

Just four months after the EU's ban on Indonesian airlines was lifted on 29 October 2018, the debate on air safety in Indonesia was reopened following the crash of the Boeing 737 of the Indonesian low-cost airline Lion Air, with 188 people on board. 

In addition to Lion Air, four other fatal accidents on commercial flights have occurred in Indonesia in the last decade, killing between 45 and 162 people. 

The worst incident in the history of Indonesian aviation occurred on 26 September 1997 when an Airbus of the Indonesian airline Garuda crashed in the north of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, killing all 234 passengers and crew. It was the worst year for Indonesian aviation with three major air accidents.