Safety, Security in Aviation

Who in Indonesia was not offended when on July 4 the European Commission blacklisted Indonesian airlines, barring their planes from flying to Europe? The basic reason, they argued, was safety issues. Although debatable, this fact is really too painful to accept. Indeed, no Indonesian airlines presently fly to Europe. National flag-carrier Garuda stopped flying to Holland after the economic crisis, but had recently announced plans to resume scheduled flights to this destination. But now it is prohibited from doing so.

Even without this ban, a friend jokingly said that Indonesian aircraft would never arrive on the continent of Europe as scheduled anyway. Take, for example, the case of Boeing 737-300, which was scheduled to fly to Hasanuddin Airport, Makassar, but arrived instead at Tambolaka Airport, East Nusa Tenggara. Greater attention, however, was paid to the air disaster befalling Adam Air’s Boeing 737-400 on Jan. 1, 2007.

Many people were surprised to learn of this air disaster. Adam Air is a low cost carrier (LCC) and was presented the Award of Merit in 2006 in the category of low cost airlines at the third annual Asia Pacific and Middle East Aviation Outlook Summit in Singapore. The question is whether low cost carriers like Adam Air neglect safety regulations in a bid to cut costs.

The LCC concept was first introduced by Southwest Airlines in the United States in 1971. This concept was then adopted by Ryanair, an Irish airline, in 1985. In time, this concept spread to Asia. AirAsia adopted it in late 2001. This Malaysian airline entered Indonesia on April 10, 2004 with attention-grabbing advertisements about low-cost air tickets.

The term LCC itself came from the aviation industry in reference to a low or very low operating cost structure in comparison to traditionally managed airline companies. Operating costs are reduced by applying a point-to-point flight system, reducing labor costs and not offering any regular services (food and drinks) to passengers during flights.

A point-to-point flight system is aimed at increasing the utilization of an aircraft, so that its turn around is faster and costs incurred for airport facilities are less. Meanwhile, labor costs are also reduced. Take, for example, two leading LCC airlines in the United States, Southwest and JetBlue. They pay their employees 30 to 40 percent less than regular airlines (Wall Street Journal, October 2002).

Another cost-saving measure is not to serve food or beverages during flights. This measure cuts costs by US$5 to $10 per passenger. Not serving food or refreshments means a 3.2 percent reduction in total costs (Air Transport Association, 2001).

But is it true that the LCC concept could be the cause of various air accidents? In other words, is it true that a low cost carrier ignores the safety of its passengers?

Following the Adam Air tragedy early this year, there is a strong public perception that a low-cost flight could mean a loss of life. However, if the LCC concept is properly understood, this opinion is unfounded. As Widijastoro Nugroho, the marketing and distribution director of AirAsia, puts it, “Safety and security are the two main things that must never be tinkered with.”

That’s why, Widijastoro, said, AirAsia and other airlines adopting the LCC concept, such as Southwest and JetBlue, have a zero accident rate.

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