A lesson to learn from budget airliners

A budget airliner crash-landed in bad weather and broke into two in Phuket, yesterday. So far eighty seven people have confirmed to have been killed in the crash.

This is what The Nation reported:

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50 Foreigners among 87 killed in Phuket plane crash

Eighty-seven people, 50 of them foreigners, were killed when a budget commercial airliner crashlanded at Phuket Airport in bad weather conditions Sunday afternoon, officials said.

Published on September 17, 2007

 

Forty-three people survived in the first local disaster for lowcost airline industry since its introduction a few years ago.

One Two Go Flight OG 269 lost balance while touching down and skidded off the runway. The MD82 plane slammed into trees and an earth embankment, exploding and breaking in two, witnesses and officials said.

Health Minister Mongkol Na Songkhla said 87 people died and 43 people survived. There were a total of 130 passenger and crew on the plane.

Of the 43 survivors, 15 are Thais and 28 foreigners.

The verification of identities of both the dead and injured were far from complete at press time.

Deputy Transport Minister Sansern Wongchaum earlier said that there were 78 foreigners on board. Tourists from Australia, Austria, Britain, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands were being treated at main provincial hospitals.

A surviving Thai passenger said the plane “landed hard” and “bounced” and then skidded off the runway. Air Transport Department chief Chiasak Angkauwan said, “the airplane requested to land but due to the weather in Phuket strong wind and heavy rain maybe the pilot did not see the runway clearly.”

One survivor told of a fast drop in altitude by the airplane and sudden brief jerk upward. He said they plane then crashlanded and exploded. He saw several fellow passengers on fire.

It was not immediately clear if the pilot, who was reportedly killed, was attempting to pull the aircraft up in the last minute when it crashlanded. He had reportedly been allowed to circle the airport to wait for improvement in weather conditions.

An official at the Phuket Airport control tower, who asked not to be named, said the pilot had been told of bad weather conditions, especially very strong winds. Shortly before the illfated flight crashlanded, another lowcost airliner originating from Hong Kong had successfully touched down, he said.

Officials said victims could have died on impact, or from suffocation or fire resulting from explosions. According to an initial account, the plane’s fuselage was torn open in the accident, some of the survivors were those thrown out through the opening.

Flight OG 269, approached the Phuket airport at about 3.40pm from Bangkok. Phuket had earlier been hit by heavy rains.

Eyewitnesses said the impact of the crash caused the plane to break in two and they heard loud explosions.

Rescue teams and navy personnel were involved in the rescue operation. Bodies were piled up in the smouldering wreckage. All flights in and out of the Phuket airport have been cancelled.

An Irish tourist, identifying himself only as “John”, said he was on board the flight. He and his friend survived with bruises all over their bodies.

“We sat on the 18th row. The weather was real bad and there were lots of unusual noises during the landing. Something was obviously wrong [during the landing],” he said. He and his friend escaped through the emergency door.

Meanwhile Transportation Minister Thira Haochareon said Phuket International Airport was temporary closed after the crash. He said the body of the aircraft hit the runway and was on fire. The air traffic control source said the aircraft’s right wing made contact with the runway at the initial stage of the accident.

MacDonnel Douglas MD82 has a passenger capacity of 175 seats, with flight ceiling of 37,000 feet and flight distance of 3,500 kilometres.

AFP reported that the accident was witnessed from the sky. It said Marine Keisel, from Paris, was aboard a plane behind the one that crashed and saw the accident happen.

“When the plane landed it caught fire,” she told AFP at Phuket airport. “We could see the fire coming out of it. It was chaos inside my plane.”

Authorities say they will not make any assumption regarding the cause of the tragedy until investigation is completed, although bad weather was obviously a problem at the airport over the weekend. An American pilot who landed just prior to the One Two Go plane reportedly told CNN that the landing was one of the toughest he had ever undertaken – indicating that the weather conditions were severe.

Like several other airlines, One Two Go has reportedly undergone manpower changes. The boss of One Two Go and Orient Thai budget airlines, Udom Tantisprongchai, is said to have replaced several of his Western and Thai pilots – allegedly to cut costs and reduce the chance of work disputes _ with crews with Indonesian and Philippine pilots.

However, authorities insisted it was too soon to presume anything, including whether human errors played a part in the tragedy.

Certain reports said the pilot was given permission to abort the landing in the final minutes.

Communications between the pilot and the air traffic controller and their judgements _ information contained in the black box _ could shed some light on the tragedy. Some aviation sources said an instruction or decision to land in Krabi could have been taken in extreme weather conditions.

Last night a swarm of media had descended on the office of One Two Go, near the intersection of Asoke and Sukhumvit. With the high death toll and the fact that it took place in the heart of Thailand’s tourism industry, the issue of whether or not there were human errors involved could become hot up very soon, the aviation sources said.

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These are the other reports about the ill fated flight in The Nation too. Survivors reported an unusual high speed landing approach just before the crash.

The maintenance and operation of budget airliners have been doubtful. Many believed that to keep the cost of operations low, these airliners skimmed on maintenance and deploy renegade operating procedures such as landing approaches, to save marginal costs, which compounded will translate to profits.

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AirAsia too was not spared of these related problems, although unreported in the mainstream media. During their B737 operations, they have had problems such as tire blow-out upon landing and have disrupted operations in the airport. These uncanny poor records are invariably much different from the national carrier Malaysia Airlines’s, even though Malaysia Airlines have operated almost three times larger fleet of the same type with a much bigger network for four times longer. AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes admitted they deploy unconventional methods, including landing approach procedures.

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Its unimaginable if lives were lost because of the greed to make money. To have unscrupulous practices at the expense of travelers’ lives is really low. Tragedy is forever one experience we should avoid.

God help us all!

*An update. I was cautioned by one of my readers on this Bernama report dated 28 June 2007

Govt Urged To Monitor AirAsia’s Flight Safety

June 28, 2007 20:32 PM E-mail this news to a friend Printable version of this news

KUALA LUMPUR, June 28 (Bernama) — A government backbencher today expressed doubt over the safety of AirAsia flights and urged the government to monitor the situation.

In making the call, Datuk Ronald Kiandee (BN-Beluran) said he was concerned over the safety of the low-cost carrier’s flights especially in servicing the rural areas.

For example, he said, two AirAsia aircraft had landed at the Sandakan Airport although their Instrument Landing System was not functioning for several hours at the end of last year.

Recently, a plane from the same company en-route to Kota Kinabalu, had to turn back, he said when debating the Carriage By Air (Amendment) Bill 2007 in the Dewan Rakyat.

In reply, Deputy Transport Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Azlan Sultan Abu Bakar said the ministry viewed the matter seriously and would make recommendations to tackle it.

“The ministry has to deeply study the proposal to ensure that in the future, airline operators in the country can afford to handle their flight systems well both domestically and internationally,” he said when winding up the debate.

He said the government had recently decided for Malaysia Airlines (MAS), through its subsidiary MAS Wings, to take over the rural air service in Sabah and Sarawak.

Replying to Datuk Paduka Badruddin Amiruddin (BN-Jerai) on compensation that could be claimed by air passengers, Tengku Azlan said the same rate applies to all airline companies including low-cost carriers.

On the 1999 Montreal Convention raised by Datuk Razali Ismail (BN-Kuala Terengganu), he said Malaysia adopted the convention to create a uniformity in air transport service and to improve the compensation claim system.

The Dewan Rakyat later passed the Bill. Also passed was the Pathology Laboratory Bill 2007.

— BERNAMA

Published in: on September 17, 2007 at 09:43  Comments (12)