Editorial – Transport Tragedies

Hundreds of people lost their lives in Indonesia in the past week when a ferry sank, a plane crashed and speedboat capsized, a series of tragedies that occurred as the nation celebrated the new year.

It has long been clear – amid an apparent unending of transport-related deaths – that the national transportation sector is in dire need of a serious overhaul in terms of they way companies are allowed to operate.

Almost annually, when the heavy rains arrive, as they did with force in recent days, people die aboard planes or boats here, yet regrettably, the authorities appear mired in complacency.

What, for instance, was the Adam Air plane that crashed in Sulawesi on Monday afternoon, with 102 people on board, doing cruising – according to earlier, now-bungled official accounts – at an alarmingly low level of 8,000 feet that saw it smash into a Sulawesi mountain when it should have been at 35,000 feet? (Or did it plough into the sea off Sulawesi as it hit stormy weather, throttled to full power to escape it and ran out of fuel, as some reports and commentators have suggested?)

And how did inclement weather – with waves reported at 4 meters high – pound a ferry carrying some 600 people to the bottom of the Java Sea in what survivors said was a brief 10-minute episode? Half of those on board are still missing.

Foreign aviation experts commented that despite bad conditions during the rainy season, the low-cost airline’s craft, Boeing’s 737-400 workhorse, should have been able to withstand the wild, sweeping gusts and driving rains of the kind we saw earlier in the week – if piloted and maintained properly.

We recall how last year another Adam Air plane lost communications for hours as it flew from Jakarta, eventually having to make an emergency landing.

As lengthy investigations get underway into the multiple tragedies, it should be beholden upon the authorities to swiftly carry out regional checks on transport firms – what kind of craft they are operating and if they meet international safety regulations; how well trained pilots are, and how often they receive additional instruction; and gain owners’ assurances that they will not put profit before passenger safety when sending a ship or plane into danger.

Firms not up to scratch should face the threat of heavy fines or immediate closure.

Additionally, many have pointed to the ageing craft used by the slew of airline startups in recent years as cause for accident concern, and though after recent tragedies the government has scaled back the age of allowable craft, it needs to further require budget carriers here to invest in more modern, safe planes.

In tandem, the government must beef up communications in outlying islands. This is essential to maintain orderly traffic in the sea and air. As we saw this week, poor satellite communications around the Sulawesi region left red-faced officials having to deny their earlier assertions that the Adam Air jet had been found, and as enraged families of the passengers and crew spent long days waiting for further news, rescue teams from here and abroad raced to try and locate the downed craft.

Such measures are especially essential at a time when the nation’s fledgling and cutthroat budget airline industry takes off.

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