Sunday, June 25, 2017

Opinion: Low cost airlines like AirAsia mean a higher safety risk

Geoffrey Thomas


The latest incident involving AirAsia X in Australian skies is a severe blow to the AirAsia Group — the biggest low-cost airline conglomerate in Asia. Once again passengers will ask should we fly AirAsia to our favorite holiday destinations of Bali or Kuala Lumpur?

Surveys show that while 60 percent of passengers have a fear of flying, only 27 percent choose safety over price as low-cost airlines lure the thrifty. AirAsia brought the low-cost concept to Asia in 2002. It has been a huge success, with more than 250 million passengers carried on the group’s services.

It has joint venture partners in Indonesia, Thailand, Japan and the Philippines, as well as long-range partner AirAsia X in Kuala Lumpur.

But low-cost airlines have a downside. They usually have tighter schedules with less back-up. So, when a plane breaks down, the disruptions can be longer.

They work with fewer ground staff, which manifests as less customer service.

Low-cost airlines now make up 20 percent of all travel into and out of Australia.

However, of more serious concern is operational safety and many low-cost airlines have not done the International Air Transport Association Operational Safety Audit.

Airlines that have done the IOSA have a 4.3 times better safety record than those that have not, although that ratio is distorted by the big number of Third World airlines with terrible crash records that have also ignored the audit.

In the AirAsia Group, only AirAsia X has completed the audit. The audit is an internationally recognized evaluation designed to assess the operational management and control systems of an airline.

The AirAsia Group is a very successful operation, but it needs to take stock to ensure that its rapid growth is not compromising safety.

Five major incidents or accidents in the past three years is not a good record by any measure and most of these have involved pilot issues.

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