US ends nine-year flight ban

The tail section of Indonesia AirAsia Flight 8501 which crashed in December 2014. Source: Wikimedia

Indonesia’s airlines have been cleared to fly to the US, after a safety review by regulators.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said the archipelago’s carriers had been upgraded to “Category 1”, the top air-safety rating, after being banned for nearly a decade.

The Indonesian aviation sector suffered several high-profile accidents and was downgraded in 2007.

The EU also recently lifted a ban on three of Indonesia’s airlines.

After a safety review in March, Indonesia was deemed to be in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) safety regulations, the FAA announced.

“With the International Aviation Safety Assessment Category 1 rating, Indonesian air carriers…can establish service to the United States and carry the code of US carriers,” the FAA said.

“This is an achievement we’ve been waiting for since 2007,” Suprasetyo, director general for air transport told the media in Jakarta. “There are several airlines that are ready to fly to the US.”

Indonesia has suffered 13 major crashes in the past decade, according to Flightglobal data, which is three times above the global average.

State carrier Garuda Indonesia could begin flying to New York or Los Angeles in 2017 although it might prove costly.

“It represents a huge and risky investment at a time Garuda is already struggling with its international operation,” said Brendan Sobie from the Centre for Asia-Pacific Aviation.

India and the Philippines recently returned to Category 1 status but Thailand was downgraded last December.

Category 1 means the civil aviation authority complies with international standards while Category 2 means a country either lacks laws or regulations to oversee its airlines in accord with the minimum international standards.

A shortage of skilled pilots, ground crew and air-traffic controllers as well as outdated equipment and planes have contributed to accidents.

In 2011, a Nusantara Buana Air plane crashed in Sumatra, killing all 18 people on board. In 2013 a Lion Air flight crash landed off the Balinese coast without fatalities.

In 2014, an AirAsia plane crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 162 passengers and crew.

Garuda returned to profit in 2015.

The authorities opened a new terminal at Jakarta’s main airport this month to reduce congestion and added equipment to improve airport safety.

“The efforts of the DGCA [Directorate General of Civil Aviation] over the past year have demonstrated the commitment of the DGCA, the Ministry of Transportation and the government of Indonesia to establishing a system of effective aviation safety oversight,” the US embassy said.