from Asia Unbound

Why Air Disasters Keep Happening in and Around Indonesia

December 30, 2014

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In the past year, Malaysia’s aviation industry has suffered an unprecedented number of tragedies. Although the odds of any person boarding a flight dying in a plane crash are about 1 in 11 million, three Malaysia-based aircraft have apparently gone down, with no survivors. The latest, AirAsia Flight QZ8501, had been traveling from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore when it vanished over the Java Sea.

To some extent, the three Malaysian air disasters are just brutal bad luck. Still, they point to several disturbing trends that raise the question of whether flying in peninsular Southeast Asia is completely safe. The air market in the region has embraced low-cost carriers, leading to a proliferation of flights throughout Southeast Asia, stretching air traffic controllers, and possibly allowing some airlines to expand too rapidly. Indonesian carriers, air traffic controllers, and Indonesian airspace in general have become notorious for weak safety regulations. AirAsia has responded to this crisis much more rapidly than state carrier Malaysian Airline did after the disappearance of Flight MH370 last March, but the opaque, authoritarian politics of Malaysia—which are common in Southeast Asia—will likely make the search and rescue operation, and any inquiry into why the flight crashed, more difficult than necessary.

For more on my analysis of Southeast Asia’s aviation climate, go to: