Air safety group says airport was operating illegally without license when Garuda Indonesia Flight 200 crashed

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Monday, June 23, 2008

An Australian air safety group claims that Yogyakarta International Airport was opearating illegally with no license when Garuda Indonesia Flight 200, a Boeing 737, crashed at the airport, killing 16 Indonesians and five Australians.

Flight Safety Pty Ltd had been asked to carry out an independent investigation by an anonymous client after the March 2007 disaster, which occurred when the aircraft landed at excessive speed and shot off the end of the runway. Flight Safety has now announced that they have found Yogyakarta International had been granted a five year license but this would be withdrawn after twelve months if several conditions were not met. Since these conditions remained unchanged, the license effectively voided six months before the disaster, claim Flight Safety. One of the conditions was extension of the runway and provision of an adequate Runway End Safety Area (RESA).

The group adds that it also conducted checks on Solo International Airport and Semarang International Airport, and that these airports also had invalid Airport Operating Certificates. The final report was not released at the time as the client in question felt it 'too sensitive', and Flight Safety says that it was rapidly covered up three months later when it leaked in Indonesia.

The group says it notified the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), and that they in turn said the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) - who assisted in the crash investigation - was in control of the situation. However, Flight Safety claim that when approached, the ATSB denied knowing about it. Allegedly, the ATSB had missed the licensing discrepancy because they only checked the front page of the airport's license and did not conduct a detailed analysis of the small print.

Flight Safety claim that the Indonesian Director of Aviation Safety told them that the situation had been rectified. However, the group have now conducted a re-audit and say Solo and Yogyakarta airports both remain illegal. They go on to accuse the ICAO, ATSB and Indonesian Director of Aviation Safety of "keeping quiet" and described them as 'compromised'.

Flight Safety go on to claim that the survivors of the crash and relatives of the deceased have not been informed either, and say that this will have a serious effect on the compensation process and on any insurance claims. Crikey, an Australian news service, also suggested that AU$12 million of aid promised by Australia to help Indonesia improve air safety is also being misused. All Indonesia's air carriers are currently on the list of air carriers banned in the EU.

An official statement by Flight Safety head Chris Weir concluded "It [the group's findings] should now be exposed as the safety issues remain unresolved."

Mardjono Siswo Suwarno of the National Transport Safety Committee, the body responsible for investigating the disaster, denied that Yogyakarta Airport was illegal, saying "At that time [the license] was still valid, but the RESA was not long enough... But still in the [Garuda] case, even if the RESA length was adequate, the plane would have still overrun because the speed was 1.8 times normal speed."

The final report found that the pilot-in-command, who has been arrested and charged over the crash, attempted to land after fifteen Ground Proximity Warning System activations to tell him he was landing too fast, and says that although a longer runway and full-sized RESA wouldn't have stopped an airliner traveling at such excessive speed it could have reduced the toll of deaths and injuries.

The directors of Yogyakarta and Solo airports claim that since the re-audit they have taken steps to improve safety and rectify any problems, but have not actually admitted their airports were illegal. Indonesian director general of air transportation Budi Mulyawan Suyitno said that although local budget limitations have prevented some airports from being improved there are no problems currently at Yogyakarta, with improvements including declaration of a RESA for 140 metres of the 2,250 metre runway and stationing Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting trucks at the airport.


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