AirAsia #QZ8501 disappearance highlights disturbing aspects of Southeast Asian air travel industry

Less than 24 hours into the disappearance of AirAsia Flight QZ8501 and, already, conspiracy theorists are at work reading into the minutiae of minimal information being released by official sources. That QZ8501 is the third Malaysian aircraft (after Malaysian Airlines MH370 vanished with 239 people in March and, another, MH17 carrying 298 people was shot down over the Ukraine in July) has been noted foremost. There is unlikely to be any relationship between the three accidents.

Flight QZ8501 is owned and operated by AirAsia Indonesia which makes it an Indonesian airline although its parent company which owns a 49 percent stake is Malaysian. AirAsia, until now, has enjoyed a generally trouble-free existence. Indonesia, however, has a less than sterling aviation safety record. A string of crashes over the mid-1990s through to the mid-2000s and later resulted in all Indonesian airlines being banned from flying over European airspace from 2007-2009. Post-2009, Indonesian budget airline Lion Air, however, is still blacklisted by the European Union. It’s had no less than seven accidents since 2002 with its most recent mishap happening in 2013 when one of its brand-new Boeing 737-800s crashed in Bali. Fortunately the 108 people on board survived.

Indonesian aviation spotty record: Lion Air crash in 2013. No passengers killed(Source: News.com.au)
Indonesian aviation spotty record: Lion Air crash in 2013. No passengers killed
(Source: News.com.au)
Southeast Asia is home to a rapidly-growing civil aviation industry and a key challenge to this growth has long been the availability of competent pilots, aircraft mechanics and air traffic controllers. Because much of Southeast Asian countries is made up of many islands, its inhabitants have always been dependent on sea and air travel, with services often operated by monopolistic — and often crooked — businesses enterprises until recently. With increasing affluence owing to the region’s famously fast-growing economies, air travel has literally taken off. Indonesia is one of the world’s fastest growing air travel markets according to the International Airt Transport Association (IATA).

The Philippines is also among the world’s fastest-growing air travel markets. AirAsia also operates a subsidiary in the Philippines, AirAsia Philippines and is chaired by Antonio “Tonyboy” Cojuangco, a cousin of current Philippine President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III. In 2011 AirAsia Philippines took delivery of two units of the same Airbus 320 flown as AirAsia Indonesia’s Flight 8501. Budget airlines operating in the Philippines have also had a spotty safety and service track record. In June, 2013, an Airbus 320 of the Philippines’ top budget carrier Cebu Pacific, skidded off the runway at Davao City International Airport shutting down airport operations for more than 3 days and resulted in the cancellation of numerous flights in and out of that city. None of the passengers were harmed. In 1998, Cebu Pacific Flight 387 flying from Manila to Cagayan de Oro crashed killing 104 people on board. In both crashes, there was strong evidence of human error.

Cebu Pacific also figured in a very recent public relations disaster which will likely cost it dearly. The “Great Cebu Pacific Christmapocalypse of 2014” is blamed on shoddy management practices that have come to characterise airline operations in the Philippines. The snafu caused by a string of delayed Cebu Pacific flights resulted in massive chaos at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) on Christmas Day, 2014 that caused widespread anger and may possibly attract a Congressional inquiry into Cebu Pacific’s management practices.

According Harvard Business Review writer Oliver Segovia, Cebu Pacific is “a horrible airline” because its management team is “not right for the job”. Segovia cites publicly-available information on Cebu Pacific’s business operations to reveal disconnects between its stellar revenue growth and investment in staff and training. Most notably, the Cebu Pacific Board is severely deficient in collective airline experience and its membership is laced with family ties. Segovia notes:

[…] this is a board stacked with lawyers, family members, and insiders. It’s a board designed to preserve control and mitigate risk, rather than to strive for operational excellence and competitiveness.

It’s also a board filled with old people. The average age of the Cebu Pacific Board is 65 (and that is helped by Lance and Frederick. 5 out of 9 Directors – a majority! – are above 73 years old).

Interestingly, Segovia cites AirAsia Malaysia as an example to highlight the misguided investment priorities of Cebu Pacific, highlighting that the Malaysian carrier spends six times more on people than Cebu Pacific. Segovia points out that despite Cebu Pacific’s Revenue Passenger Kilometer (RPK) metric growing 12.1 percent in 2013, its staff cost grew by only 2 percent in the same year. No information is available on how much of that scrimping is copped by maintenance and piloting staff, however. Segovia also notes that the “average age of the [AirAsia Malaysia] board is 53” compared to 73 for Cebu Pacific.

Like AirAsia Philippines, AirAsia Indonesia is also minority held by its Malaysian parent company with 51 percent controlled by “Indonesian Shareholders” according to the AirAsia website.

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11 Comments on “AirAsia #QZ8501 disappearance highlights disturbing aspects of Southeast Asian air travel industry”

  1. Another deliberate (improvised) terrorist attack on a plane, just like Malaysian Airlines planes?

    Or just another case of deliberate business incompetence and cost-cutting?

    Or all of the above?

  2. Not too many people are acknowledging the fact, BUT it is a fact, that Malaysia is the country where 5 very prominent World politicians have been convicted(twice,and on multiple charges) by an I.C.C. Court.The mostly symbolic court based in Kuala Lumpur ,Malaysia has convicted George W. Bush,Donald Rumsfeld & Dick Cheney,along w/Former-British Prime Minister Tony Blair & Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu, of War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity for their roles in what the court says was the illegally conducted War in Irag.
    It has also been widely speculated in the E.U. that the shooting down of the plane in Ukraine was a none too thinly veiled failed attempt to shoot down Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plane as he was returning to Moscow from the World Cup championship game in Sao Paolo,Brazil.Reports that place Putin’s plane as passing through the exact air-space as the ill-fated Malaysian aircraft w/in 25 minutes of the downing of the aircraft has been confirmed by Russian intelligence sources and has been the cause of the speculation.

    Weather reports in the area at the time of the most recent crash have suggested heavy fog in the area but when ascending to and flying at 38,000 ft.,fog is ‘usually’ not a factor as the atmosphere at that altitude is pretty thin and there is more likely to be a ‘space-junk’ space telescope at that altitude (on its way down)than a ‘fog’ related situation.
    It is also interesting to note that the companies involved are connected to countries that are predominantly Muslim with Indonesia being the world’s most Muslim populated.The GWOT (Global War On Terror) pits West against radical Muslim’s and the problems in Ukraine in the past year seem to pit the West against Russia. The recent speculative attack on the Russian rouble has been alleged to be a Western led assault on the Russian Federations currency in order to turn the Russian people on its leader, the afore-mentioned Mr.Putin. Many people know that the world has often gone into major ‘HOT’ wars after engaging in ‘COLD’ wars that first try to destabilize a countries economy before it is attacked and can not defend itself because it hasn’t the funds to sustain a prolonged war.

    So, is there a real reason to say that it is ‘unlikely that there is any relationship between the three accidents’ as the essay suggests?……….IDK, is there?

    1. Dunno. Makes for interesting reading and fodder for punditry though.. The only apparent common denominator between the three is really just Malaysia and that’s about it. For now.

      Abangan ang susunod na kabanata…

  3. We wait and see; if there no “Ping signal” heard from the flight recorder, for five (5) days. The missing plane is unlikely to be found. It will have the same fate, as the missing Malaysian Airline. Inclement weather does not bring a plane down. Pilots just fly around it.

    If Cojuangco management is involved in running airlines. With Board of Directors, in retirement ages. Management consists of lawyers, and “kamagnaks”…then, disasters will surely happen on these commercial flights.

    We have Aquino, running the Philippines…a Cojuangco. Their family has a “genetic predisposition” of mental retardation. Can you imagine; entrusting your life to mentally retarded people, as you board their planes?

    1. Ironically, majority of people in this country voted for such mentally retarded people to lead and rule over them because it probably reflects them as a whole so I guess why should it be different elsewhere?

      Nobody likes accidents and nobody wants to die being in one. I sure hope the wreckage would be found soon.

  4. Don’t forget that PAL is number 4 on the most dangerous airlines list (Garuda is number 10) and was also banned from Europe for 3 years.

  5. @budoy then you go ride a freagin boat! If it weren’t for pal, caaps eu ban wont be lifted, and the category wont be restored.

  6. Hi Gomez, thanks for the tip. The much bragged about Filipino sea skills are best exemplified by the Dona Paz….. The best seamen? No just the cheapest really. But Filipino semen appear to be strong. Charles Darwin never made it here by all accounts.

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