XAC-built MA60s in Merpati livery

Airline under scrutiny after safety check

Indonesia’s Ministry of Transport has grounded two Chinese-made MA60 aircraft operated by Merpati Nusantara Airlines.

MOT has ordered the airline to carry out a maintenance check on the two aircraft according to the manufacturer’s schedule.

The MA60 is made by Shanxi-based Xi’an Aircraft Co (XAC).

The check will be carried out at Merpati’ engineering & maintenance base in Surabaya, after which Ministry engineers will conduct another safety inspection on the two aircraft.

MOT’s air transport director Henry Bhakti Singoyuda said the audit was initiated after one of the airline’s MA60 aircraft crashed on 7 May while on a domestic flight from Sorong City to Nadire.

All 27 people on board including four crew members perished.

MOT has also banned Merpati from operating the MA60 to three domestic airports that are considered to have dangerous terrain surrounding them.

The state-owned airline signed a contract with XAC on 7 June 2006 to acquire 15 MA60s at US$15.5 million each. China’s Export Import Bank agreed to provide a 50 per cent loan.

Two aircraft leased to the airline with an option to be converted into a sale were delivered to Merpati on 28 August 2007. Merpati engineers found cracks on a rudder in May 2009 and a similar defect on another aircraft four months later.

XAC engineers were called in to fix the problem.

Merpati managers in Surabaya declined to confirm or deny that the two aircraft remain grounded.

One official was only willing to say that two MA60s have been idle for some time.

Merpati director Sardjono Jhony Tjitrokusumo denied that carrier had rushed into signing the deal to acquire the aircraft despite safety concerns following accidents involving the MA60 with airlines in the Philippines and Zimbabwe.

Merpati also denied that the airline did not have the necessary qualified and competent staff for MA60 operations.

The MA60 has failed to make an impression in Europe or with major airlines in Asia.

Meanwhile investigations into the crash have yet to determine the cause.

Spokesman for Merpati Workers Union Aris Munandar claimed that the pilot of the fatal aircraft, though experienced, might not have been rated to fly the MA60.

Aris also asserted that several unqualified managerial staff had been appointed to key positions within the airline.

“Several retirees were reemployed in senior management positions while others were given managerial posts,” he said.

The union alleged that several employees were fired by the airline when they questioned the appointment of incompetent staff.

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