EU maintains ban on Indonesian airlines amid accusations of political motivation

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

The European Union has maintained its ban on all 51 of Indonesia's airlines on the grounds of safety concerns. The Indonesian foreign ministry, which had earlier believed its plan to "fast-track" safety improvements for three airlines would see them back in the EU by July's end, suggested that the ban may have political overtones.

Indonesia had implemented a program to bring state-owned flag carrier Garuda Indonesia up to EU standards, as well as private rivals Mandala Airlines and Airfast. This received a boost in May when Garuda passed a safety audit by the International Air Transport Association.

"Indonesian authorities have still not developed and implemented an efficient oversight program on any of the carriers under their regulatory control," said the EU's Air Safety Committee upon rejection of the three airlines' request for permission to return to the EU. It was added that Indonesia had no effective oversight program and that the International Civil Aviation Organisation had been unable to assess recent changes.

The committee also noted that inspectors did not have the power to ground substandard aircraft and urged Indonesia to increase inspections themselves. A report from the Indonesian director-general of civil aviation said that, between January and April, Garuda performed just nine of 56 mandatory surveys, while Mandala conducted only two out of 27.

The committee acknowledged some improvement by the three airlines, but was unanimous in rejecting their request to have the ban lifted.

Teuku Faizasyah, spokesman for the Indonesian foreign ministry, expressed disappointment at the result and questioned the reasoning behind it. "We are disappointed with the prolonging of the ban. We've done some improvements so we do hope that those actions taken could be considered," he told reporters. "The way we see it, the EU always puts their actions (in terms of) technicality issues. But we question if there are political motivations behind the decision."

The ban was implemented in 2007 following deregulation in the 1990s that triggered a string of aviation accidents. On New Year's Day 2007, 102 people were killed when an Adam Air Boeing 737 crashed into the ocean near Sulawesi. This was followed in March by a Garuda 737 overshooting the runway at Yogyakarta Internataional Airport with 21 fatalities.

Adam Air has since been grounded, while on Thursday Captain Marwoto Komar, pilot of the Garuda jet, went on trial charged with a range of possible offences, the most serious of which could see him imprisoned for life.