Some critics are calling into question the quality of a Merpati Nusantara Airlines Chinese-made MA60 aircraft after it crashed Saturday in Kaimana, West Papua, killing all 27 people on board.
Before the deadly incident, two Merpati MA60 planes were also involved in incidents in July 2010 and February this year although there were no casualties then, news portal tempointeraktif.com reported.
In July 2010 at Selaparang airport in West Nusa Tenggara, the scheduled flight of a Merpati MA60 aircraft was called off due to a short circuit problem in the cabin, while in February this year at Kupang airport in East Nusa Tenggara, a Merpati MA60 skidded off the runway.
Several years ago, then vice president Jusuf Kalla rejected a plan to purchase MA60 airplanes, saying production volume was too low and the model had not received certification from the US Federal Aviation Administration ( FAA ).
“The producer said there were 30 aircraft. China operated 10 and we were to order 15. That meant we would be using trial aircraft. It was a dangerous move,” Kalla said in Semarang on Sunday.
He said he agreed to rent the MA60 planes for Merpati — a state-owned airline — so China should shoulder the responsibility of any problems with the planes.
However, news portal detik.com reported that Merpati eventually bought the planes in 2009, after Kalla was no longer vice president.
Merpati’s former president director Bambang Bhakti said in a 2009 hearing with the House of Representatives that the airline found cracks in the rear wings of two MA60 airplanes and grounded them for safety reasons.
All the MA60 planes were constructed by China’s Xian Aircraft Industry Co. Ltd.
Despite the aircraft’s history, the director general for air transportation at the Transportation Ministry, Herry Bhakti S. Gumay, said Merpati’s MA60s met Indonesian airworthiness criteria.
He admitted all the MA60s were not FAA-certified, but argued the FAA certification was not needed in Indonesia, and was only necessary if the aircrafts were exported to the US.
“The FAA is a US government institution. It regulates air transportation matters only in the US,” he told The Jakarta Post.
Herry said that all airlines had to follow national procedures and check all equipment and engines before take off.
“That is official procedure. No airlines can break the rules, including Merpati,” he said.
He said the crash in Kaimana was likely caused by bad weather rather than poor build quality.
In Kaimana, rescue workers have successfully retrieved the aircraft’s flight data and voice recorders.
“They are being brought to Jakarta. The investigation can take two to four weeks,” Herry said.
Merpati spokesman Imam Turudi said rescue workers had also recovered the bodies of 21 passengers.
“The rescue team will continue to search for all the bodies,” he said.
The families of the victims, Imam said, would each receive Rp 750 million ( US$87,750 ) from Merpati and Rp 50 million from the airline’s insurance firm. ( lfr )