AirAsia Bhd., operator of Flight 8501 that went down in the Java Sea almost a week ago, had the route involved in the crash suspended by Indonesia, raising questions about coordination between that government and Singapore.
AirAsia was only permitted to fly the Surabaya-to Singapore-route on four days of the week not including Sunday when the crash occurred, Indonesia’s Transportation Ministry said yesterday. Singapore’s Civil Aviation Authority contradicted that directive today, saying the airline had been authorized to run daily flights during the winter season under a bilateral air-services accord.
The development came as sonar deployed in the plane’s search discovered large objects on the seabed suspected to be fuselage. Four more pieces of the plane were located today, Indonesia’s search and rescue agency chief Bambang Sulistyo told reporters in Jakarta.
If AirAsia flew on a day when it wasn’t permitted, “then the onus falls not only on the airline but also on the regulator,” Shukor Yusof, founder of aviation research firm Endau Analytics, said by phone today from Johor. “Somebody clearly didn’t do their job.”
The six-year-old Airbus A320 flown by AirAsia’s Indonesian affiliate was on a routine commercial flight with 162 aboard when it crashed Dec. 28.
The airline could fly between the two cities on Mondays, Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays, according to the Indonesian ministry. The company was operating the flight on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, according to Singapore’s CAAS. AirAsia’s website showed all flights from Surabaya to Singapore as unavailable today.
AirAsia Indonesia Chief Executive Officer Sunu Widyatmoko confirmed the suspension of the route license and said the carrier will cooperate with an investigation, according to comments made at a press conference broadcast on local television today. The company won’t issue a statement until the results of the government review are announced, he said.
The route suspension raises questions about coordination within the government, Kuala Lumpur-based Mohshin Aziz, an analyst at Maybank Investment Bank Bhd., said by phone today.
“Every flight has to be approved based on bilateral agreements,” Aziz said. “Even if Indonesian authorities got it wrong, I find it hard to believe that Singapore would as well.”
The carrier has not responded to multiple comment requests by phone and email. Employees of AirAsia at Surabaya’s airport told Bloomberg News that the suspension would only be until Jan. 5.
Of the four pieces of debris discovered today, one is 18 meters (59 feet) long and 5.4 meters wide, while another measures 12.4 meters in length. The other pieces, about 30 meters underwater, are 9.4 meters long and 4.8 meters wide, and 7.2 meters in length.
–With assistance from Niluksi Koswanage in Kuala Lumpur.
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