Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Indonesia wants to ban older airliners

Following a recent string of aviation accidents -- most notably the New Year's Day loss of Adam Air Flight 574, and the more recent damage to another Adam Air plane after a hard landing -- Indonesia is planning to ban local carriers from flying passenger planes that are more than 10 years old. The age limit is intended to improve commercial aviation safety in Indonesia, according to the Indonesian national news agency, Antara.

A Reuters article about this move quotes Indonesia's Transport Minister, Hatta Rajasa, who said, "Our commercial aircraft are 20 years old. We will modernize, rejuvenate our aircraft by enacting an age limit on aircraft of 10 years old." Hatta said that currently the age limit was 35 years or 70,000 landings, Antara reported.

Interestingly, an article published in the International Herald Tribune, and elsewhere, says that the current age limit for planes in Indonesia is 20 years.

It's a little unclear how the new limit on aircraft age would be applied, since Hatta also said that at the time of leasing the plane should be no more than 10 years old, according to Antara. Does that mean that a plane that is, say, 8 years old at the time of leasing will only be allowed to fly for two years? If so, Indonesian carriers will have to start spending a lot more money to acquire much newer planes.

In any case, it's odd that the age of the plane, per se, is being emphasized, rather than the number of cycles (takeoffs and landings) -- usually considered to be a better measure of aircraft 'age.' Perhaps something was 'lost in translation' here between what was first published by Antara and what was published in the English language press?

Perhaps an even more important issue than aircraft age is the quality and frequency of the maintenance performed on airliners. In the end, modernizing and improving maintenance facilities and practices in Indonesia may be a better solution for improving safety than merely modernizing country's commercial airliner fleet.