Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Pilots’ drug lifestyles worrying

Yet another arrest of a pilot, this time from Lion Air, over the alleged use of crystal methamphetamine late last week has raised concerns over the safety of the country’s airline industry, with the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) suggesting that a large number of pilots could have drug problems.

BNN’s chief of operations, Brig. Gen. Benny Mamoto, said that the arrests of airline pilots may hint at a larger picture of drug abuse in the country.

“There is a possibility that airline crews are linked to drug networks,” he told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

Benny said the BNN is currently investigating cases of drug abuse in the transportation sector across the country. He also urged operators to seriously monitor their crews.

“This is a serious warning for airline crews and those on any other mode of transportation that they should not use drugs,” he said.

Benny called on crew members who are addicted to drugs to voluntarily submit themselves to the BNN and ask for rehabilitation.

The BNN had previously revealed that pilots considered crystal meth as being part of their lifestyle.

Lion Air pilot Syaiful Salam, 44, was arrested over the weekend in his room at the Garden Palace Hotel in Surabaya, East Java, with 0.04 grams of crystal meth in his possession. He tested positive to the drug in a urine test.

The arrest was made only three hours before he was due to fly one of the budget airline’s planes from Surabaya to Makassar, South Sulawesi, at 6:15 a.m.

The Transportation Ministry has revoked Syaiful’s pilot’s license.

“This is the consequence of his action and this also serves as a warning for other pilots to not commit such offences,” the Transportation Ministry’s air transportation director general, Herry Bhakti Gumay, said.

Syaiful was the third Lion Air pilot to be arrested for drug use within the past seven months.

Two days after Syaiful’s arrest, members of a joint team from the BNN and the Transportation Ministry arrested a copilot from a national airline for possible drug use.

Deputy Transportation Minister Bambang Susantono said the copilot was arrested at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport on Monday night during a random check.

“Out of the urine tests we carried out on 94 crew at terminals 1 and 2, this copilot’s urine test came back positive,” he said.

Bambang, however, declined to divulge the name of the airline at which the copilot was employed.

Lion Air’s general affairs director, Edward Sirait, said his company would go the extra mile to prevent drug abuse among its crew, including working with the National Police.

“We are ready to work with any agency that can help us to prevent drug abuse in Lion Air, including with the police, the BNN and the regulator,” he said.

National flag carrier Garuda Indonesia’s senior public relations manager, Ikhsan Rosan, rejected the BNN’s claim that the use of illegal substances had become a part of pilots’ lifestyles.

“The lives of airline pilots are governed by a great deal of strict rules, including fixed sleeping hours, to help them stay fit,” he told the Post.

Ikhsan said that a small number of pilots might have a drug habit but, in general, pilots in the country were drug-free.

President of the Indonesian Pilots Federation, Capt. Hasfrinsyah HS, ruled out stress as a cause for pilots, including Syaiful, to take drugs.

“A pilot’s job is not ‘stressful’. I could actually say the word is not in our dictionary,” he told the Post.

He said the federation applied strict rules that all pilots should follow. “We have a rule that states a pilot should fly no more than nine hours per day in order to balance their work load. After nine hours, he or she should take a rest and have at least a proper eight-hour sleep.”

Pilots who worked longer hours should report to their company’s designated doctors to obtain a rest permit, he said.

Hasfrinsyah also said a pilot should pass professional checks every six months, which included a health test, a skills test and a simulator test. “Practically speaking, a pilot’s license is only valid for half a year.”

The string of arrests of pilots belonging to private airlines has raised concerns among airline customers over their safety.

“With this drug case, we are now afraid to fly, especially with companies that already have a poor track record, like Lion Air,” one of Lion Air’s frequent flyers, Gentani Rahmaliana, said.


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