Indonesia is upgrading security at its 192 airports to guard against possible terrorist attacks, weeks after a deadly bombing and shooting assault by Islamic State militants in downtown Jakarta.
Measures will include fences at all the country’s airports that comply with International Civilian Aviation Organization standards, “first-class” baggage x-ray machines and retraining for security officers, Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan said in an interview this week.
“We shouldn’t wait for indications and then act,” Jonan said. “We have to prepare better. We will increase the standards of airport security all over the country.”
Aviation security has come under renewed scrutiny globally since an apparent bomb downed an Air Egypt flight last October, killing 224 people, and a suicide bomber blew a hole in the side of a plane flying from Somalia earlier this month, killing himself. In January, Islamic State militants carried out a gun and bomb attack in Indonesia’s capital, a reminder of the threat posed by extremism in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
Jonan also defended the slew of safety regulations he has issued or enforced since taking office in October 2014. The rules include immediate route suspension for airlines involved in safety incidents, as well as a floor on ticket prices.
“I know the airlines might not be happy with this, but I’m not happy with them either,” he said. “I come here not to serve the airlines but the safety of the public. The challenge here is how to discipline operators.”
Driven by a decade of rapid economic growth, annual air passenger numbers in Indonesia have more than tripled since 2006 to nearly 95 million last year, according to the World Bank. That has strained the country’s aviation infrastructure and regulatory capabilities.
Indonesia has stepped up efforts to improve its record in the past few years, but challenges remain. The country has a shortage of skilled pilots, ground crew and air traffic controllers; equipment and planes often are outdated or don’t work. Many of its airports are below par or have runways that are too short, and the terrain of 17,000 islands makes for treacherous flying conditions. Much of the network, including the airports, has suffered from underinvestment and is operating over capacity.
The country has had 13 fatal plane crashes in the past decade, almost level with the previous 10 years, according to data from Flightglobal. The government will allocate around $1 billion this year to improve safety for land, sea and air transport, the largest sum since independence, Jonan told an airline conference in Bali last November.
“We’re improving,” said Jonan, who before becoming transport minister turned around the fortunes and culture of Indonesia’s state-owned railway company during a five-year stint as its head.
“Last year was unfortunate but if I may say, almost around the globe no place is safe for aviation,” he said. “You can get shot without notice, get hijacked, get bombed.”
Indonesia’s “permissive” culture is to blame for many of the aviation accidents the country has suffered in recent years, Jonan said.
In December 2014, for example, a flight operated by AirAsia Bhd’s Indonesian affiliate that crashed en route to Singapore from Surabaya, killing all 162 people on board, was later found to have flown without permission.
“There are too many pardons, too much leeway. I don’t like it,” Jonan said. “For example, a pilot works more hours, past his flying limits, then gets caught by an inspector and the inspector says, ‘Don’t do it next time.’ I say ‘No, no: If you get caught you get punished.’”