Indonesian Air Safety In Spotlight Again After Crash

 - January 11, 2021, 4:48 PM

As dive teams continue to comb through the wreckage of Sriwijaya Air Flight SJ182, Saturday’s crash of one of the airline’s Boeing 737-500s into the Java Sea has placed Indonesia’s safety aviation record back into the spotlight.

According to the Aviation Safety Network’s database, the country has experienced 104 commercial airline accidents with over 1,300 fatalities since 1945 and at least one hull loss every year from 2010 to 2019. In 2007, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) lowered Indonesia’s safety evaluation from Category 1 to Category 2; eight years later American authorities reinstated its Category 1 rating, effectively allowing Indonesian carriers to launch service to the United States and codeshare with U.S. airlines. EASA placed a similar ban on Indonesian carriers from 2007 to 2018.

Flight SJ182 is Indonesia’s first major commercial aircraft accident since 2018, when a Lion Air Boeing 737 Max carrying 189 people crashed into the Java Sea 13 minutes after takeoff from Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta on its way to Pangkal Pinang on the Indonesian island of Bangka. Indonesian investigators determined that design flaws in the Boeing 737 Max combined with insufficient oversight by U.S. regulators, failures in crew resource management (CRM), and maintenance lapses all contributed to the October 2018 crash of Lion Air Flight 610.

Other notable accidents include Indonesia AirAsia Flight 8501 in 2014, Trigana Air Flight 267, Aviastar Flight 7503, and a C-130 Hercules military flight carrying civilian passengers in 2015.

Saturday’s crash marks the fifth aircraft accident and the fifth hull loss for Sriwijaya Air. In 2008, a Boeing 737-200 overran the runway at Sultan Thaha Airport in Jambi and crashed into a house, leaving one person dead. The airline suffered three additional runway excursions in 2011, 2012, and 2017 but with no fatalities.

Flag carrier Garuda Indonesia, through its subsidiary Citilink, gained operational and financial control of Sriwijaya and its sister carrier Nam Air in 2018 in an attempt to return the airline to profitability following a steep loss in 2017. At the time of the agreement, Sriwijaya allegedly owed more than $175 million to various companies that included state-owned oil and natural gas corporation Pertamina, Bank Negara Indonesia, and airport operators Angkasa Pura I and Angkasa Pura II. The tie-up gave Garuda and Sriwijaya about 45 percent of the domestic market; the Lion Air Group held the rest.

In 2019, Sriwijaya Air and regional subsidiary Nam Air faced fresh calls of concern over air safety, security, and operational standards after severing their partnership with Garuda/Citilink. The two sides later reconciled with the aim of restarting its five-year operational cooperation agreement.