Indonesian Aviation: A Crisis

Crisis can occur slowly or suddenly, but always causes of loss whether physically, emotionally or economically. It emerges from threats, urgency and destruction which is often on a monumental scale (Seeger, Sellnow, & Ulmer, 2003). In contrast with disasters, which cause injury or loss of life, a crisis is able to threaten reputations without killing (Seymour & Moore, 2000). The word of disaster and crisis are sometimes confused in use, both are different but interrelated. The difference between disaster and crisis is clearly defined by Shrivastava, et al (1988), who stated that disaster is an agent of crisis while Shaluf, et al (2003) stated a crisis may develop from political and economic issues as well as from disaster.

Let’s see the situation of Indonesian aviation. Indonesian airlines were banned by the European Union (EU) on 28 July 2007 from flying to Europe because Indonesian airlines failed to fulfil ICAO safety standards and this was supported by its high accident rate. The EU’s announcement threatened reputations and caused damage psychologically, emotionally and economically. It also created fear, uncertainties and chaos, or in other words, Indonesian aviation was in shock. This condition fulfils the criteria for a Crisis (Fink, 1986; Pauchant & Mitroff, 1992; Seeger et al., 2003; Weick, 1987), thus Indonesian aviation is in crisis.

Pre-Crisis

Pre-crisis is the condition that occurred prior to an event that impacts the system and causes the crisis. In this stage, a system always sends early warning signals (Fink, 1986; Pearson & Mitroff, 1993) that are produced from long term interaction (s) of social, psychological, and cultural factors (Seeger et al., 2003) and complex interactive of technological and structural elements (Perrow, 1984). On the other hand, Ray (1999) defined the precondition factors broadly as internal and external factors, and uncertainty.

Other studies divide the pre-crisis stage into pre-conditions and trigger events (Pearson & Clair, 1998; Pearson & Mitroff, 1993; Shrivastava et al., 1988; Turner, 1978; Turner & Pidgeon, 1997). Pre-condition is defined as the incubation of unnoticed failures (Tarn, Wen, & Stephen, 2008; Turner, 1978; Turner & Pidgeon, 1997), or the accumulation of failures which may come from internal or external failures of technology, human and organization (Shrivastava et al., 1988), or early warning signals (Fink, 1986; Pearson & Mitroff, 1993), or even the operational, regulations and risk perceptions (Pearson & Clair, 1998). When these all come together at the same time then an organization becomes vulnerable to an unwanted, unnoticed, unplanned event that difficult to ignore and leads to crisis.

Pre-crisis in Indonesia aviation is an accumulation of accidents in aviation that were shown by the high accident rate and the death toll. The crisis was signalled by a series of accidents and incidents as notification of problems indicated the deterioration in the organization which by the time led to crisis (Fink, 1986). In a condensed and highly competitive business like in Indonesia, management might take strategic decisions to compete in the business which sometimes sacrifices safety (Nelkin & Brown, 1984), or take amoral actions motivated only by profits (Kagan & Scholz, 1984). This condition is also known as management failure (Reason, 1990, 1997) or organizational influence (Douglas A. Wiegmann & Schappell, 2003). A highly competitive air transport industry with loosely functioning regulatory bodies tended to lead the airline to focus on business instead of the need of fulfil safety standards. This ignorance will results in lack of aircraft capabilities and personnel capabilities. Both conditions, whether acting alone or together, will lead to an accident.

Beside the failure in the airlines, the government as regulator also plays a significant role in aviation. Regulation and policies are needed to guide the aviation operation which also has to fulfil the ICAO safety standards. Lack of effort by the regulatory bodies led to ignorance of safety by airlines while out of date safety standards which should be amended from ICAO Annexes would cause the non-fulfilment of the ICAO safety standard. The accumulation of failures in operator and regulator was evidenced by the high accident rate that also indicated the failure of organization in learning from previous accidents. 

Crisis

Roughly, crisis is defined as a condition in a system when a precipitated event hits a system and leads to instability psychologically, physically or economically. It usually begins with some unexpected trigger events which fundamentally disrupt an organization in some way, occur within a specific and limited timeframe and ends with some resolutions (Seeger et al., 2003). Seeger et al (2003) describe the crisis condition as dysfunctional established routine activities, relationships, norms and beliefs, or these values have broken down. Fink (1986) named this stage as the acute crisis stage where the warning signals sent in previous stage have erupted into a crisis. Thus, this stage will affect an entire organization as a unit of individuals. Individually, crisis will affect members’ beliefs, premises and assumptions about the organization besides having psychological impacts such as stress, fear and anxiety. From the organizations’ perspective, these psychological impacts are able to cause decision makers to make effective decisions to control and manage the situation.

Here, the European Commission’s announcement to ban Indonesian airlines as I stated in the beginning threatened reputations and caused damage psychologically, emotionally and economically. It also created fear, uncertainties and chaos, or in other words, Indonesian aviation was in shock. Thus, Indonesian aviation is in crisis. Here, the European Commission on Aviation stated that Indonesian air carriers have a serious safety deficiency as identified by the ICAO safety audit report (The European Union, 2007). In this Commission Regulation the other reasons to ban Indonesian airlines is also stated (The European Union, 2007):

  1. US Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announcement to lower Indonesian safety rating in the IASA programme as a consequence of failure to comply with international safety standards which was related to findings by the ICAO while auditing Indonesian aviation and resulted in prohibiting Indonesian airlines from commencing service in the United States;

  2. Meanwhile, the ICAO audit report also mentioned the failure of aviation authorities to perform their air safety oversight responsibilities,

  3. Lack of ability from the competent authorities of Indonesia to implement and enforce the relevant safety standard while an inadequate reply from these authorities about the safety operation of the licensed airlines were raised by the Commission

Those reasons are used by the European Commission on aviation to forbid all Indonesian airlines from beginning any services in European countries.

Post-Crisis

When a crisis occurs in an organization, the consequences are widespread and rapid. Post-crisis shows how a crisis has damaged the organization. There are at least three essential effects of a crisis: it threatens the legitimacy of an entire industry, reverses the strategic mission of an organization and has effects at the individual level (Pauchant & Mitroff, 1992). Therefore, crises need to be understood, including the causes and consequences to allow resolution and closure (Seeger et al., 2003). Fink (1986) distinguished this stage as the chronic crisis stage – a post mortem or clean up phase in which an organization has to recover, do self-analysis and deal with self-doubt, and also heal; and the crisis resolution stage – is the final phase or learning for resolution of the crisis. Thus, post-crisis consists of a recovery and learning stage where the organization should take opportunities from the crisis to re-develop the entire organization.

Then let’s see Indonesian aviation. After the EU’s announcement, the Indonesian government tried to negotiate with the EU to revoke the EU decision to ban all Indonesian airlines. The Indonesian government commits to improve aviation safety in Indonesia as Indonesia and the ICAO signed a groundbreaking declaration in Montreal, 2 July 2007, whereby Indonesia commits to improve its aviation safety (ICAO, 2007b). According to this declaration, Indonesia has to improve its safety aviation in accordance with ICAO Annex 6 (Operation of Aircraft), Annex 11 (Air Traffic Services) and Annex 14 (Aerodromes). In addition, for aircraft accident and incident investigation, Indonesia has to act consistent with ICAO Annex 13. Moreover, Indonesian government also provide correction plans to fulfil ICAO safety standard according to critical elements that addressed by ICAO (2007a).

Then, to follow up the EU’s decision to ban all Indonesian airlines, the Indonesian Directorate General for Civil Aviation (DGCA) invited the European experts to examine Indonesian aviation from 5 to 9 November 2007. The DGCA was informed of the improvement in Indonesian aviation, especially critical issues that are addressed by the ICAO in their safety audit report. Even though there were improvements in human and financial resources, the improvements were still under the international standard and did not allow the operating ban imposed on all carriers certified in Indonesian authority to be revoked.

The Indonesian authorities submitted its action plan to the European Commission on 25 March 2008 which was not followed by supporting documentary evidence of its implementation. Therefore, the European Commission decided to continue to support and assist the Indonesian aviation authorities improve Indonesian safety aviation because, at this stage, all Indonesia air carriers still did not fulfil international standards for safe aviation. Until now, the national authorities cannot ensure the safe oversight in all Indonesian certified air carriers although Indonesian authorities were informed there were five air carriers that have been suspended for safety reasons.

On 24 July 2008, the EU announced that it would retain the decision to ban all Indonesian carriers flying to European countries although the European Commission and the Air Safety Committee (composed of all 27 EU member states) admitted an improvement in Indonesian aviation safety after assessing three airlines – Garuda Airlines, Mandala Airlines and Air Fast but found little effort had been made in the development and implementation of an efficient oversight programme through government regulations (European Commission, 2008). Finally, after 2 years, the ban had been revoked and 4 airlines are permitted to fly to European countries. Good job!

But, the question is: “Did the regulator’s efforts enough to recover from crisis?  And "How about to maintain and improve the Indonesian aviation to achieve sustainable aviation safety?" Those are not simple but possible to achieve as long as the regulator commits to improve the aviation safety. It needs willingness to recover and improve the Indonesian aviation, and regulator should lead all actors to work together to achieve it. Do we able to do it?... Time will answer all doubts...

Penulis adalah PhD candidate di Lincoln University, New Zealand

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