Following a fatal crash on May 7 in Kaimana, West Papua, the MA60 aircraft operated by state airline PT Merpati Nusantara Airlines became the subject of public scrutiny for its safety record and airworthiness. Against the odds, Merpati welcomed its final two MA60s on June 5 at the Halim Perdanakusumah Airport after a ferry flight from Xi’an via Kunming, Bangkok and Medan. Merpati invited a number of journalists, including The Jakarta Post’s Novan Iman Santosa, for a joy ride from Halim Perdanakusumah to the Juanda International Airport in Surabaya. The following are notes from the flight.
Final delivery: Photographers take pictures of two MA60s that had landed at the Halim Perdanakusumah Airport in East Jakarta on June 5, 2011. The airplanes don Merpati Nusantara Airlines’ new livery. JP/Novan Iman Santosa
The public was aghast knowing that the Modern Ark (MA) 60, made by Xi’an Aircraft Company Limited (XAC), had yet to receive certification from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), deemed aviation’s most stringent certification.
“The aircraft only needs FAA certification if it is to be marketed in the United States,” Merpati president director Sardjono Jhony Tjitrokusumo said at Halim while waiting for the arrival of the two MA60s.
“The MA60 has received certifications from both the Chinese and Indonesian civil aviation authorities, so there should be no problems.”
Jhony also commented on reports that China was offering a buy-two-get-one deal to Nepal.
“It is understandable that China is trying to expand its influence in various countries,” he said.
“Who knows, China may one day turn the loan [to procure 15 MA60s for Merpati] into a grant if there are strategic needs.”
With the arrival of the two aircraft, registered PK-MZN and PK-MZP, Merpati has 14 MA60s, making it the most-used aircraft, minus the one lost in Kaimana.
When the two MA60s landed at about 1 p.m., it was surprising to see them decked in new livery minus the Merpati logo on the rudder.
“We delayed the delivery of the final two as we requested different livery to symbolize Merpati’s transformation,” Jhony said.
After a 30-minute break, the planes were ready for the flight to Surabaya. I got on the PK-MZN full of expectations. To my surprise, the seats were arranged in a generous 31 to 32-inch pitch, creating comfortable legroom.
“The pitch is much better than on low-cost carriers that may only provide a 28-inch seat pitch,” commercial director Toni Aulia Achmad told The Jakarta Post.
I sat on the port side next to the engine nacelle so I could see the flap and main landing wheels’ movements. It reminded me when I flew on a Fokker F-27, an airplane with the same arrangement as the MA60, during my childhood.
The fuselage vibrated softly when the starboard engine started at about 2 p.m. Once the port engine was on, the vibration softened.
Taking off was smooth despite clouds hovering over Jakarta that Sunday afternoon, and the rest of the flight was smooth as well.
Another surprise was the toilet, which had all the features you would see on a big jetliner, be it an Airbus or Boeing. The toilet is located in the tail section, just next to the galley, which faces the main door.
“I found MA60 to be much more convenient to work with compared to the CN-235,” flight attendant Wildan told the Post, adding that she was among the first batch of attendants serving on MA60 in 2007 .
“The galley on the MA60 has an oven to heat the meals and can store various drinks. CN-235’s galley cannot be used for serving and can only store mineral water.”
All in all, it was a fine flight, and we landed in Juanda at about 4 p.m. The aircraft then taxied to the Merpati Maintenance Facility (MMF) where it would go through customs formalities.
The pilot-in-command, Aji, said flying the MA60 was easy thanks to autopilot and weather radar.
“I could easily evade clouds or other obstacles,” he told the Post.
Operational director Wisudo said Merpati expected to get an MA60 simulator by July, part of the deal to buy the MA60s, which also includes US$20-million-worth in spare parts.
“The simulator price is about one-and-a-half times the airplane price,” he said. The MA60 simulator will be located at the Merpati Training Center (MTC), already home to Fokker 27 and CN-235 simulators.
Wisudo added that the MMF had been appointed an MA60 service center for the Asia Pacific region, with customers including Zest Air of the Philippines.
Toni said that with the final delivery, Merpati would be able to serve routes in Kalimantan linking Pontianak with Putussibau, Ketapang and Sampit and then to Semarang and link Halim with airports in Bandarlampung, Bengkulu and Jambi.
Toni added that Merpati needed about 15 jets, 40 planes with 50-passenger capacities such as the MA60 and 20 planes with 20-passenger capacities such as the NC-212 and DHC-6 Twin Otters to fulfill its mission of Jembatan Nusantara, being the Bridge of the Archipelago.