Friday, February 17, 2006

Recently on the way back from my holidays in Bali, I took a flight from Denpasar to Jakarta with Adam Air. I’ve heard about this relatively new airlines from several friends who all mentioned that Adam Air have brand new aircrafts and are even authorised to fly to Singapore. It sounded extremely good especially considering the one way ticket price of Rp295.000, which was just a bit higher than offer from the cheapest “metro-mini” style none-budget carrier Lion Air. The offer seem to be so good that base on my experience of living in Indonesia for several years, I immediately started thinking that this is just too good and there must be something wrong. Anyway, I decided to try my luck and fly with Adam Air. Apparently many other passengers thought the same, as the flight was totally booked – comparable to Garuda flight which had almost no passengers.

When boarding I immediately noticed that the Boeing 737-400 aircraft had the engine cover scratched everywhere, wings were all dirty and had broken paint in multiple places, aircraft door also looked very old and far from what I would expect from a brand new aircraft. Nevertheless, I decided to test the level of my fear of flying and get on the plane. Just for the record I noted the airplane registration code PK-KKI.

When arrived in Jakarta I looked up the airplane code in the database and the “brand new” aircraft that I was flying apparently had its first flight on 10-12-1988, thus being 17 years old age aircraft, which if compared humans, the airplane would be in its late forties. In its long life the mentioned airplane also travelled a lot as it was previously used by Sahara India Airlines, Sierra National Airlines and Air Belgium (first owner), thus having pretty much interesting life as an aircraft.

Now a question arises if I had a bad lack to fly with the only old airplane in Adam Air's fleet or actually the fleet is not as new as I’ve expected. Following my curiosity I prepared a table of Adam Air owned aircrafts providing the age of each aircraft:

Registration Aircraft First flight date Aircraft Age
PK-KKF 737-200 12-2-1980 26
PK-KKN 737-200 21-3-1980 25
PK-KKQ 737-200 16-1-1981 25
PK-KKJ 737-200 3-2-1982 24
PK-KKL 737-200 12-4-1984 21
PK-KKE 737-300 31-8-1987 18
PK-KKP 737-200 31-5-1988 17
PK-KKH 737-400 11-7-1988 17
PK-KKU 737-300 4-8-1988 17
PK-KKI 737-400 10-12-1988 17
PK-KKD 737-400 22-12-1988 17
PK-KKR 737-300 9-1-1989 17
PK-KKS 737-400 28-1-1989 17
PK-KKT 737-400 5-9-1989 16
PK-KKG 737-400 7-1-1991 15
PK-KKC 737-400 9-1-1992 14
PK-KKA 737-500 10-6-1997 8

Looking at that I feel I was actually lucky as the 17 years old aircraft I had a pleasure to fly with is actually very new if compared to another Aircraft used by Adam Air registered as PK-KKN (KKN is actually one of the most popular acronyms in Indonesia originated from Korupsi-Kolusi-Nepotisme) which at a current date is 25 years old. Comparable to human age this aircraft would be in its late seventies and probably already having one spot booked at the graveyard.

Base on the table above we can also calculate an average age of the Adam Air's fleet, which is 18 years. Actually, there was only one airplane that was less than 10 years old and if I’m not mistaken that must be the Adam Air aircraft authorised to land in Singapore.

Clearly, many passengers chose Adam Air airlines thinking about the new airplanes, when actually the fleet is full of refurbished aircrafts with only one relatively new aircraft which is used by Adam Air marketing team to create an image or rather mirage, of having fleet of new aircrafts.

Maybe Adam’s Air definition of “new” is somehow local Indonesian definition, thus I might have wrong perspective. To verify that I compared age of major Indonesian airlines and came up with the following statistics of indonesian aircraft carriers average age of the fleet:

Garuda Indonesia - Age 10 years
Lion Air - Age 17.2 years
Adam Air - Age 18.1 years
Awair - Age 18.8 years
Merpati - 21.8 years
Batavia - Age 23.4 years
Sriwijaya Air - Age 23.5 years
Mandala Airlines - Age 23.9 years
Bouraq Indonesia Airlines - Age 25.1 years

Shocking! With 18 years old fleet of elderly aircrafts Adam Air comes on the third position of the newest aircraft fleet in Indonesia. Garuda Indonesia leads with 10 years old fleet. Another great surprise is that none-budget carried Lion Air comes second with just a little over 17 years old fleet – that is almost half older fleet than Garuda Indonesia. The list is closed by Bouraq Indnonesia Airlines which with 25 years old fleet gives me an idea of a Fear Factor stunt “Flight with Bouraq” for test of flying phobia. Mandala Airlines comes second from the end.

Having Mandala Airlines so low in the list reminds me about the Mandala’s Boeing 737-200 crash on 05/09/2005 which resulted in total body count almost 150. At the date of incident the PK-RIM aircraft was almost 24 years in service. For comparison the Lion Air's McDonnell-Douglas MD-82 airplane that crashed in Solo Airport on 30/11/2004 at the date of incident that resulted in 25 fatalities was 20 years in service. At last report, it had accumulated 56,674 flight hours and 43,940 landings!

I somehow think that it’s not just a coincidence that the aircraft that crashed were at least 20 years old.

To compare that to the foreign airlines, I checked the average age of fleet of pervious owners of the Adam Air’s PK-KKI aircraft I was flying with.

Blue Panorama Airlines: Age of the fleet - 11.6 years
Sahara India Airlines: Age of the fleet - 10.5 years
Interesting, 11.6 years and 10.5 years which I think proves that both airlines found this plane too old to operate, while Adam Air management thinks operating 17 years old aircraft is perfectly fine.

Browsing through recent newspapers I’ve found several articles that will be a good conclusion for this post.

The first one comes from The Jakarta Post (dated 11 February 2006):

An Adam Air Boeing 737-300 plane serving the Jakarta-Makassar route was forced to make an emergency landing Saturday at the small Tambulaka Airport in Sumba, East Nusa Tenggara, a spokesperson for Adam Air said.

The plane took off from Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta International Airport at 6:20 a.m. with 145 passengers on board. It was scheduled to land at Hasanuddin Airport in Makassar at 9:25 a.m. local time, Suwandi, Adam Air supervisor for Makassar, said. There is a one hour time difference between Jakarta and Makassar.

However, navigational problems caused pilot Tri Tuniogo to lose contact with the destination airport, he said. The plane was later found to have landed at Tambolaka at 9:45 a.m. local time.

"No one was hurt in the incident," Didik, Adam Air's public relations officer for Jakarta, said, adding that the emergency landing was made due to bad weather. "As to whether it was a storm or heavy rain that forced the pilot to land -- we remain uninformed," he said.
Ok, so there was a bad weather and airplane had to land. Nothing unusual, right? Until you read the follow-up published on the Valentine’s day.
The ministry of transportation considers that Adam Air committed a serious violation when operating a plane still required for "evidence" following a serious incident affecting the navigation system of the plane. "That is a serious violation and the first ever committed by an airline in Indonesia. The Adam Air management needs to be examined in connection with it," the ministry's director general of air transportation, Iksan Tatang, said replying a reporter's question here on Monday.

Adam Air's Boeing 737-300 aircraft with flight number DHI728 had made an emergency landing at Tambolaka airstrip in West Sumba, East Nusa Tenggara, after wandering for three hours due to a navigation system failure on its way from Jakarta to East Nusa Tenggar with 145 passengers on board.

On Sunday the aircraft was flown by the airline's operations director, Ade Salmiar, to Hasanuddin airport in Makassar, Sulawesi, after technicians from the Ngurah Rai airport in Bali repaired it.

The director general said the plane should not have been flown pending an examination by the National Committee of Transportation Safety (KNKT) and the Directorate of Airworthiness Certification.

"In view of that the Adam Air management must be examined, including the pilot that flew it," he said adding that if the pilot was found to be aware that his action was actually wrong he could have his license revoked.
That’s interesting. Previously it was a bad weather and now it is a navigation system failure. Huh? I think the real story came up only because of the serious violation committed by Adam Air. FYI two of my friends flew with Lion Air from Manado and airplane had a serious malfunction to the extent that stewardess ordered everyone to wear a life vest. Fortunately flight finished without fatalities and nothing appeared in news - probably thanks to the KKN acronym I’ve mentioned before.

You probably wonder how old was that Boeing 737-300 which got navigation system failure acka landed because of bad weather? Looking at the age of Adam Air’s 737-300 fleet the plane must be at least 17 years in service. That is probably 3 years too short to have this small incident resulting in fatalities and adding another Indonesian airplane crash to the list. Looking at the whole picture, I predict there will be at least one Indonesian aircraft accident before the end of this year. Thus, have a nice flight everyone! Meanwhile, I'll fly with Garuda.

Update: Follow-up on the PK-KKW crash here.

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