FAA downgrades Indonesia's oversight systems to Category 2

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By Nicholas Ionides & David Learmount

Indonesia's aviation safety decline has been marked by the Federal Aviation Administration. The US agency has downgraded the Indonesian directorate general of civil aviation's oversight capability to Category 2 under the FAA's International Aviation Safety Assessment Programme (IASAP), following a series of airline accidents over the past few months.

The downgrade came last week and means that if Indonesian carriers wanted to fly to the USA they would have to lease foreign-registered aircraft. At present no airlines operate non-stop services between the two countries.

The FAA last assessed Indonesia's oversight systems in September 1997 and found they complied with International Civil Aviation Organisation standards and recommended practices (SARPS) for safety oversight, so were judged to be IASAP Category 1. ICAO SARPS are the benchmark against which a country's national aviation authority is judged. There are only two IASAP categories: 1 is ICAO compliant, 2 is non-compliant.

Indonesia has seen a burgeoning of its independent air transport industry since domestic market deregulation in 2000, three years after the last successful FAA IASAP inspection. A drift toward international liberalisation in the region also boosted capacity. Early in 2005, however, state-owned Garuda was successful in persuading the government to ban foreign low-cost airlines from Jakarta, Bali, Medan and Surabaya.

But the US Embassy in Jakarta says there are "serious concerns about DGCA's safety oversight and operational control systems" and has warned against flying on Indonesian carriers. There have been two fatal accidents in Indonesia since 1 January, along with several other non-fatal incidents in recent months.

The Indonesian government has been under intense pressure to improve aviation safety and last month announced a review of the country's airlines. This study found that none of them met all the minimum civil aviation safety standards. Most of the country's airlines fell into a second category under which some civil aviation requirements were found to have not been implemented, while several airlines fell into the lowest category and were threatened with closure.