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27 February 2024

Weather 'triggering factor' in AirAsia crash

By Reuters

Weather was the "triggering factor" in the crash of AirAsia Flight 8501 into the Java Sea a week ago with 162 people on board, according to Indonesia's meteorological agency.

The Airbus A320-200 crashed during a storm en route from Indonesia's second city Surabaya to Singapore, and relief workers are hunting for flight data recorders to determine the cause of the crash.

But an initial report on the website of BMKG, Indonesia's meteorological agency, suggests the weather at the time the plane went down sparked the disaster.

"Based on the available data received on the location of the aircraft's last contact, the weather was the triggering factor behind the accident," said a report on the agency's website.

The report said the aircraft appeared to have flown into storm clouds.

"The most probable weather phenomenon was icing which can cause engine damage due to a cooling process. This is just one of the possibilities that occurred based on the analysis of existing meteorological data," it said.

Major parts of the Airbus A320-200 were found in the sea off the island of Borneo late Friday and Saturday, raising hopes that the remaining bodies and the crucial black box recorders would soon be located.

Indonesia has pledged to investigate flight violations by AirAsia, saying the ill-fated aircraft had been flying on an unauthorised schedule when it crashed. The airline has now been suspended how jet went missing in age of GPS from flying the Surabaya-Singapore route.

Critics ask how jet went missing in age of GPS

Air travel advocates are demanding global aviation authorities explain how an Air Asia  jetliner with 162 people aboard got lost at a time when satellites and webcams monitor society's every move.

"It should be impossible for an airliner to go missing" in an age when people can track their phones and cars to within a few feet, said Paul Hudson, president of Flyersrights.org and a member of a US Federal Aviation Authority rulemaking advisory committee.

For two days rescuers have been unable to locate wreckage from the Air Asia Flight QZ8501, an Airbus A320 that was built in 2008 and last serviced in November, which likely did not fly far from its last radar sighting.

The technology exists for more closely pinpointing the location of the flight moments after it vanished on Sunday from radar screens, tracking experts say, and it would have helped narrow the vast search area in the Java Sea. But those systems are not fully deployed.

Global air-traffic control systems are in various stages of upgrade from radar to GPS ground and satellite navigation amid disagreements between airlines, governments and regulators about standards, costs and recommended implementation deadlines.

Hudson's group complains that failures going back more than a decade have led to many recommendations but little change in how planes are monitored. The group wants regulators to require better tracking.

Kevin Mitchell, founder and chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, an advocacy group for corporate travel departments, said the inability to quickly locate planes would likely have a "chilling effect" on travelers.

"We're pressing for making tracking a higher priority" for regulators, he said.

‘At least a decade away’

Charles Leocha, chairman of Travelers United, another advocacy group, predicted that despite the increased urgency, "a solution is at least a decade away" because of industry reluctance to incur costs and the difficulty setting equipment standards.

Better tracking and real-time flight-data monitoring became urgent issues after Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 went missing in March with 239 people on board, possibly flying for hours on autopilot as a "ghost plane" until its fuel ran out. It is thought to have crashed in a remote part of the Indian Ocean.

Its disappearance prompted the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency, to set up a task force led by the International Air Transport Association on tracking systems.

Iata's working group, representing airlines, pilots, air traffic controllers and airplane makers, already has agreed aircraft should be tracked to the nearest nautical mile.

In December the task force recommended a deadline of 12 months for deploying existing tracking systems, but Iata board members vetoed that timetable, saying it may prove impractical, stopping what was seen as the best chance of prompt action.

The Air Asia flight had a flight-tracking system known as ADS-B that the FlightRadar24 website used to publish its flight path. Ground-based air traffic controllers had radar data that showed the plane disappeared at 6:17 am local time on Sunday (2317 GMT).

"Clearly something happened where it went off the radar screen and they weren't able to fix a last location of the aircraft," said Don Thoma, chief executive of Aireon, a unit of Iridium Communications that is developing a satellite-based tracking system.

ICAO said on Monday it was premature to comment on AirAsia.

But Teuku Faizasyah, Indonesia's ambassador to Canada and its permanent representative to the ICAO, when asked what the organisation could do, told Reuters: "It's a tough question. This involves private companies ... They may need to add some instruments that are very expensive.”