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Monday, 5 January 2015

Indonesia Stiffens Weather Rules After AirAsia Flight 8501 Crash.........

JAKARTA, Indonesia—Indonesia cracked down Monday in the wake of the AirAsia crash, ordering aviation officials suspended and saying airlines will be forced to comply with more stringent pre-departure regulations that require pilots to undergo direct weather briefings with dispatchers.
A member of the Indonesian Navy looks toward an object believed to be from the AirAsia plane, Saturday.   ENLARGE
A member of the Indonesian Navy looks toward an object believed to be from the AirAsia plane, Saturday. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
With poor weather and visibility hampering search efforts eight days after the crash off the coast of Borneo, where searchers continue to pull bodies from the Java Sea and hunt for the plane’s all-important data recorders, the government shook up the procedures taken by AirAsia and Indonesian aviation authorities in the lead-up to the Dec. 28 crash.
Djoko Murjatmodjo, the Transportation Ministry’s acting director-general of civil aviation, ordered the suspension of officials at Surabaya’s international airport, where the flight originated, and said that airlines would be forced to comply with more stringent pre-departure regulations. Staff at the ministry said many airlines already practice what will become mandatory rules, but that AirAsia isn't currently among them.
Mr. Murjatmodjo said the aviation director general at the airport in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, used incorrect information in granting AirAsia a takeoff slot for the flight. On Saturday, he said the airline was permitted to fly the Surabaya to Singapore route four days a week, but not on Sunday, which was when it crashed in the Java Sea.
The Southeast Asian nation’s police force said it too would join the investigation into what happened to AirAsia Flight 8501, including whether aviation laws were broken.
AirAsia didn’t reply to requests for comment Monday. AirAsia Indonesia’s chief executive, Sunu Widyatmoko, said Saturday that the company would cooperate fully with an investigation into the crash, which is being led by Indonesia’s independent National Transportation Safety Committee.
Flight 8501, an Airbus A320 jet, was carrying 162 people, most of whom were Indonesian. After a week of searching, a multinational team has recovered around three dozen bodies floating amid an expanding zone of debris.
The plane’s “black box” flight recorders, which would provide information on the cause of the crash, haven’t been located though Indonesia’s search-and-rescue agency says it has identified large parts of the aircraft on the seabed. Poor conditions have prevented divers from reaching the pieces and offering visual confirmation that the pieces are indeed from the plane.
Indonesia’s search agency said late Monday that the search area will be expanded and the mission will shift toward looking for debris and the plane’s black boxes and away from bodies.
Suyadi Bambang Supriyadi, operations director for Indonesia’s search agency, said searchers have yet to detect pings from those data and audio recorders, which are designed to emit sounds for around 30 days before beginning to fade. On a day of few announcements from the search team, he said seats from the jet have been recovered, believed to be from the plane’s front section.
While investigators and air-safety experts say it is too early to identify a specific reason for the crash, Indonesia’s weather agency said icing was the most likely of possible weather-related factors. The plane dropped off radar screens without a mayday call as it flew close to a collection of intense, high-altitude thunderstorms.
In recent days, the Transportation Ministry has focused attention on AirAsia’s flight preparation, criticizing its practice of allowing pilots to undergo “self-briefings” of government weather information. Transportation Minister Ignasius Jonan said last week that self-briefings are insufficient to fully prepare for inclement weather.
Such briefings have been legal in Indonesia, but many airlines operating here require pilots to discuss weather and other matters with a dispatcher before departure. With the Transportation Ministry’s announcement Monday, soon all of them will.
In places such as North America and Europe, dispatchers assemble weather information, route forecasts, detailed flight plans and fuel calculations for pilots.
Joseph Miceli, president of the Airline Dispatchers Federation, a Washington-based volunteer association representing dispatchers, said the pilot-dependent approach would be totally unacceptable in the U.S.
Mr. Jonan has also ordered an internal investigation of the ministry’s civil aviation office to see if any officials gave AirAsia permission to fly the Surabaya-Singapore route outside the permitted days, according to Hadi Mustofa Djuraid, an official at the Transportation Ministry.
“This is a significant step [showing] that the minister doesn’t solely put the blame on AirAsia,” Mr. Djuraid said.
On Monday, The Wall Street Journal viewed a letter from AirAsia showing that the company is offering families of victims 300 million Indonesian rupiahs ($23,850) per passenger as “initial compensation.” Several families told The Wall Street Journal they were unhappy with the company approaching them individually, and that they had so far declined to sign, in part due to uncertainty about a payment plan and legal questions. AirAsia declined to comment. Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini said that the city is providing legal experts to the families.
AirAsia’s Surabaya-Singapore route has been suspended since Friday. The airline once had the slot on every day of the week, but it was cut to Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for Oct. 26 to March 28 due to passenger quotas. The Transportation Ministry said it would investigate AirAsia and other airlines for slot violations.
Four more bodies from the plane were identified in Surabaya on Monday, bringing the total to 13. Helicopters flew search flights over the sea and along the coast in an effort to find additional bodies, while vessels continued their search. The U.S., Singapore, Japan, Russia and China are among the countries contributing to the effort with vessels, equipment and personnel.