Monday, December 29, 2014

Air Asia Disappearance : Rescuers Set To Resume Search For QZ8501

Australian pilot training in Indonesia takes shortcuts; high school graduates allowed into AU programs that admit serious problems with English language aquisition, performance yet continue to churn out pilots despite obvious shortfalls, risks while putting profits ahead of passenger safety; ASEAN pilots have been known to deliberately fly passenger jets into thunderheads to "train" in bad weather    

By Tom Phillips, Singapore and Marie Dhumieres in Jakarta

“Pilot training in Air Asia is continuous and very thorough. Rest assured that your captain is well prepared to ensure your plane will never get lost,” - Air Asia Inflight Magazine

Rescuers in Indonesia and Singapore were preparing to resume their search in the early hours of Monday morning for any signs of Air Asia Flight QZ8501 - the third major aviation disaster to hit Malaysia this year - after it disappeared with 162 people on board.

Captain Irianto
The Air Asia flight set off from Indonesia, heading to Singapore, on Sunday morning. And in Surubaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, families of the passengers spent Sunday night in limbo as the search for the plane was hampered by the thunder storms lashing the Java Sea.

Nearly ten months after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared off the coast of Malaysia, the efforts to find the Air Asia jet immediately summoned uncomfortably familiar feelings of mystery and tragedy.

Despite dropping off the radar at 6.17am on Sunday, near an Indonesian naval base and in an area busy with ships, rescue teams could find no trace of the plane after a full day of searching.

“This is my worst nightmare,” said Tony Fernandes, Air Asia’s chief executive, after the plane was officially declared missing.

Flight path of Flight QZ8501

The Airbus A320-200 vanished in bad weather, and appeared to be trying to avoid a storm by banking and climbing in altitude as it flew from Surubaya to Singapore. But the monsoon conditions did not challenge other planes in the vicinity and its sudden disappearance an hour after take-off, without triggering a distress signal, perplexed experts.

“The area where it went missing includes a large expanse of sea and islands covered in deep vegetation on either side of its flight path,” said Alistair Rosenschein, a retired British Airways Boeing 747 pilot. “And it is not unusual for air crew to delay or simply miss radio transmissions because of flight deck workload, distractions or radio failure,” he added.

The overwhelming majority of those on board were Indonesian, but there were also a few South Koreans, Singaporeans, Malaysians, and one British passenger.

Choi Chi Man, born in Yorkshire and a graduate from the university of Essex, was travelling with his two-year-old daughter Zoe. He was said by friends to only be on the flight because four seats were not available on an earlier flight - which his wife and son boarded.

Families anxiously await news of missing relatives

On Sunday night his parents, who lived in Hull, were meeting with their second son before travelling together to the region.

Weeping relatives arrived at Changi airport in Singapore and at Surubaya’s airport throughout Sunday, desperately seeking news.

Louise Sidharta, a 25-year-old Indonesian, said her fiancé Alain, had been on the plane with his family.

“We had planned to marry in May next year,” she said. “We are not thinking negatively right now. We are only having positive thoughts.”

As some families braced themselves for bad news, others were breathing sighs of relief. There were 23 no-shows for Flight QZ8501, according to Air Asia, including three families with young children.

One family of five, including a ten-year-old boy, decided not to take the flight at the last minute because their grandfather had fallen ill.

In another stroke of serendipity, Ari Putro Cahyono told the Jakarta Post he had planned to take the flight with nine other family members but they missed their plane after mixing up the departure time. “I did not read the email notifying the change of the departure schedule,” he said.

As the search and rescue teams failed to locate the aircraft, Mr Fernandes flew to Surubaya to face crying relatives.

“Obviously this is a massive shock to us and we are devastated by what has happened. It’s unbelievable. We don’t know what’s happened yet,” said Mr Fernandes, who also owns Queens Park Rangers, the football club.

“Our concern right now is for the relatives and the next of kin. That’s something more important for us, for our crew’s families and passengers’ families, we will look after them. That’s our number one priority.” Mr Fernandes said the missing aircraft had “never had any problems whatsoever”.

“The aircraft had gone through all checks, it just had a check the end of November, it followed all procedures that were needed and it’s in good condition,” he said.

At least three Indonesian warships and five aircraft are combing the area for the plane, while Malaysia sent three boats and three aircraft and Singapore said it sent a C-130 plane.

Military teams were also conducting land searches, Indonesian authorities said, but by nightfall no trace of the plane had been found.

“We are mobilizing all personnel to find the plane. Our focus is to find it as soon as possible,” Jusuf Kalla, the vice president, told a press conference in Jakarta, admitting there was a “high possibility” an accident had taken place.

India and Australia offered to send military assets including helicopters, Hercules transport planes and vessels to assist with the search.

Flight 8501 was carrying 155 passengers and seven crew members when it took off from Surubaya’s Juanda International Airport on Sunday morning, according to an Air Asia’s flight manifest.

Those onboard were a mix of domestic helpers, business people and tourists, according to local reports. There were 137 adults and 18 children.

The incident caps an appalling year for southeast Asian airlines.

In March, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 vanished as it flew from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board. That plane has still not been found, instead becoming one of the greatest mysteries of modern aviation.

In July, a second Malaysia Airlines flight, MH17, came down over eastern Ukraine, with 298 people on board after apparently being struck by a missile fired by pro-Russia separatists.

Air Asia is also Malaysian-owned.

Air Asia faced criticisim in the wake of the disappearance of MH370 after an article in its inflight magazine claimed the company’s planes would “never get lost.”

“Pilot training in Air Asia is continuous and very thorough. Rest assured that your captain is well prepared to ensure your plane will never get lost,” the article said.

The airline subsequently apologised and withdrew the magazine, claiming the article had been written long before the Malaysia Airlines disaster.

The Air Asia aircraft that went missing on Sunday was delivered to the company in 2008 and had clocked up 23,000 flight hours on 13,600 flights, Airbus, its manufacturer, said in a statement. The plane had undergone its last scheduled maintenance on November 16, Air Asia said.

Captain Irianto, the plane’s pilot, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, was an experienced professional with 6,100 hours of flying experience. “He is always helping people because he is a very caring person,” his nephew, Doni, was quoted as saying by Singapore’s Straits Times, adding that his uncle was a former Indonesian Air Force pilot. “If there is a sick relative who needed help and even money, my uncle would be there.”

Joko Bagus, who knows the pilot from a motorcycle club of which both men are members, said his friends had not given up.

“We ourselves have no idea what happened to the plane,” he said. “But our hope is that all is well, and the plane lost its way but nothing bad happened to it.” .

Ominously, Air Asia immediately changed the colour of its normally bright red webpage to a somber mix of grey and black.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with those on board QZ8501,” read a statement posted by the company on Sunday night.

Profits Before Passenger Safety - Australia Flight Training Programs In Indonesia Admit Shortcuts

The Indonesia domestic airline Merpati Nusantara trains pilot cadets at the Australian Aviation College in Adelaide. These cadets are recent high school graduates with no prior training in the language of aviation and generally, minimal proficiency in English. 

For only eight weeks, cadets undertake ELT at the Indonesia Australia Language Foundation in Jakarta, during which they must acquire skills for pilot training and become familiar with the unique lexis of aviation. We  will show how pre-recorded pilot information was used as the raw material for developing a series of language laboratory tasks which effectively enabled cadets to comprehend and respond to the actual works tasks awaiting them.

In November 1991, the Indonesia Australia Language Foundation (IALF) was approached by the Australian Aviation College (AAC) with a proposal to conduct intensive pre-departure training for Merpati Nusantara airline pilot cadets. 

The AAC is the largest aviation training center in South Australia, with contacts for pilot training from several major Asian and Pacific airlines. Merpati had sent seven groups to the AAC prior to the IALF’s involvement. These groups had not received any specialist language training. All the pilot cadets were male, high school graduates, aged between 17 and 24, with little English training outside high school. Although none of the cadets had previous flying experience, they were all highly motivated.

The AAC had encountered serious difficulties with these initial groups of cadets, both in the classroom and the air. The instructors at the AAC were running over lecture time by 30% and flying time by a smaller amount. The lack of effective communication skills in English was identified by the AAC as a major contributor of these problems. The IALF received comments from AAC flying instructors about the cadets’ performance on the course in Adelaide. The comments focused on the cadets’ lack of communicative skills and inability to make decisions and form logical questions. Improved pronunciation and a knowledge of aviation lexis were identified as major language requirements. The IALF was thus presented with a fix-it task, so that Merpati cadets might be trained more efficiently at the AAC.

The IALF project initially involved eight separate classes of cadets taking eight weeks of intensive English language training at the IALF in Jakarta. 

The project entered the planning stage with the teaching staff fully aware of the short lead-in time and the generally low English proficiency levels of the participants.

In many respects, then, this project shared much in common with other development projects where resources of all kinds are low, expectations of all kinds are high, and budget and time constraints do not allow for the luxury of long-term intensive language training. 

While the characteristics of such projects may necessitate an urgency in the development of an appropriate syllabus and materials, it is nonetheless imperative that this development proceeds according to sound pedagogic practice, taking into account established theories of learning. If this does not happen, it is not possible to defend, articuflate or be guided by a research-based approach to English language instruction, or to ensure that learner potential is maximised.

AirAsia has established an Emergency Call Centre that is available for family or friends of those who may have been on board the aircraft. The number is: +622129850801.

AirAsia will release further information as soon as it becomes available. Updated information will also be posted on the AirAsia website,

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