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Rolling The Dice With Merpati

10/05/2011

Merpati Nusantara Airlines last experienced a fatal accident on the 2nd of August 2009, in the interim there have been a few close calls culminating in the latest fatal accident on the 7th of May.

Aviation in Indonesia is largely self-regulated due to the highly corrupt and inept regulator and therefore generally incredibly dangerous. Indonesia is one of the least safe places to fly in the world. VIVAnews don’t quite understand that point given this recent article suggesting the aircraft in this latest accident is inherently unsafe.

Merpati Nusantara Airlines are a state-owned airline whom recently received their last bailout to fund their operations. Apparently a Boeing 737 has recently been repossessed by the leasor due to non-payment. A protracted battle was had with the Chinese Government for some time over the purchase of the Xian MA60’s, the aircraft type in this latest crash.

This recent crash highlights the culture at Merpati. The 2009 fatal accident that I posted about at the time involved a DHC-6 Twin Otter flying from Oksibil to Sentani (Jayapura) impacting terrain in normal cruise flight, this is known as a controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accident, one of the most common in Indonesia. The aircraft was off track in instrument meteorological conditions (cloud)  below the minimum safe altitude. 15 people were killed.

In April last year a Boeing 737 from Sorong to Manokwari overran the 2km runway in weather conditions below minimums. Manokwari does not have an instrument approach and therefore all approaches must be conducted visually with a minumum of 5km visibility. Officially the visibility was 3km but witnesses reported it to be around 1000m, the runway is poorly draining and the reverse thrust (which augments wheel braking in slowing the aircraft down) was engaged late in the landing roll. Although the aircraft broke into 3 pieces and there were some serious injuries there were luckily no fatalities.

A couple of months or so later on the same flight another Boeing 737 came close to overrunning the runway. This time just the nosewheel dipped over the end of the runway. The local paper shows a picture of the passengers helping to push the aircraft back so that the Captain could restart the engines and taxi to the terminal.

Now days ago we have the MA60 attempting an approach to Kaimana after holding for 15 minutes in poor weather. Kaimana also does not have an instrument approach and therefore 5km visibility is required. Reported visibility at the time of the approach was 2km. However it has been suggested it may have dropped to 500m. This is essentially flying blind in an aircraft that will have been flying in excess of 200km/h at that point. So far it has been reported that the aircraft made an approach to one runway made a go-around and then was attempting to circuit for the opposite runway when it crashed around 500m from the airport. From this point speculation can be made but until the accident report is issued, speculation is all it is.

It would be very easy to just blame it all on pilot error, indeed in the early days of aviation when aircraft all over the world routinely crashed as they do in Indonesia today that was often the case. But the industry learnt that pilot error is an all too simplistic explanation. The common denominator here aside from a regulator that is overly corrupt, inept and asleep at the wheel is the airline organisation itself. There appears to be a culture of ignoring the weather and pushing on through beyond personal, legal and aircraft limits, counter to the safe culture encouraged by the majority of the industry across the world.

So to cut a long story short, I have posted all this because I think it should be well known. Merpati are likely to continue killing their passengers and employees because the regulator is too weak to pull their Air Operating Certificate (AOC).

But maybe there is hope. I certainly won’t hold my breath and I will never be flying Merpati. You’d do well to do the same.

[a version of this post has appeared on another site]

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