Budget Air Travel

The recent Air Asia flight accident has thrown a huge spanner in the fast growing budget airline travel in Asia.

This accident is very different from the other two incidents involving Malaysia Airlines, though Air Asia is also a Malaysian company (it holds 49% of the Air Asia Indonesian subsidiary). The Air Asia accident appears to be caused by bad weather conditions, or the inability of the pilots to maneuver the plane for whatever reasons. We probably would come to know the cause of the accident once the black boxes are recovered and a full analysis is carried out.

While there could be any number of reasons, this accident involving an airline which is nearly 13 years old without any accident history is a serious cause of concern. Air Asia had established itself as the leader of the odd pack of budget air carriers in Asia, with nearly 1,000 flights every day, and had a good safety record – till now. We cannot just blame the weather – thousands of flights take off, fly safely and land in very adverse weather conditions all over the world – look at the extreme weather in North America for instance.

This accident goes to show that the Air Traffic Control systems and real-time aircraft tracking systems are in very urgent need of a major systemic revamp in Asia. There are very few airports which have the latest systems (Singapore being one of them) in Asia, and the other governments have not invested. The airlines of course, do not wish to add additional cost to their poor bottom lines.

However, Asia cannot afford another accident. Passengers appear to be getting wary of budget airlines. More training is required for pilots and air traffic controllers. Strict regulatory controls are needed. System upgrades are badly required. A total revamp of air navigation across Asia under the leadership of Singapore would help in achieving far better safety record.

Urgent action is needed, and governments and airlines would do better than foot dragging. The world and passengers except nothing less.


Vijay Srinivasan

11th January 2015


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