News / Asia

Resort Airports in Stormy SE Asia Leave Safety to Chance

In this photo released by Indonesian police, the wreckage of a crashed Lion Air plane sits on the water near the airport in Bali, Indonesia, April 13, 2013.
In this photo released by Indonesian police, the wreckage of a crashed Lion Air plane sits on the water near the airport in Bali, Indonesia, April 13, 2013.
Reuters
It's the invisible enemy: something all pilots dread as they land at Asia's tropical island resorts. Wind shear, or the sudden change in wind speed and direction, is particularly hazardous at landing, but some of the region's best known holiday spots in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines do not have detection systems on the ground to warn pilots, according to airport officials.
 
This phenomenon of turbulent winds is common in equatorial Southeast Asia. A Lion Air pilot of a new Boeing Co 737 passenger jet that crashed off Bali only last month told investigators how his plane was “dragged down” by wind into the sea just short of the runway. Remarkably, no one died.
 
“There are quite violent thunderstorms that are huge. You can easily exceed the capability of the airplane in severe wind shear,” said Richard Woodward, a Qantas Airways Ltd  captain who flies A380s.
 
“The beauty of having a ground-based system is they can tell in advance if wind shear is present,” said Woodward, who has flown in the region for more than 30 years.
 
A ground warning system, which costs about $1 million, can help spot dangerous winds in the plane's flight path, giving pilots more time to avoid them.
 
But even as revenues rise and building work on glitzy new terminals charges ahead, officials say the airports at Bali, Koh Samui, Langkawi and Cebu do not have the on-ground wind shear detection equipment.
 
Asked whether the industry supported ground-based systems, Airbus spokesman Martin Fendt said: “We would support any initiative that aims to improve aviation safety. Regarding installations at airports, that is a matter for airport operators and the relevant authorities.”
 
Both Boeing and Airbus say they have on-board wind shear detection systems. Combined the two wind shear detection systems give pilots a better chance of flying to safety.
 
Act Fast
 
Adverse wind conditions are involved in more than 30 percent of accidents globally at approach or landing, Airbus says.
 
Upon hearing a wind shear alarm, the pilot has a matter of seconds to level the wings, apply full engine power and ease the nose up to cancel the landing and avoid the intense patch of turbulence.
 
The Lion Air budget carrier that crashed last month was caught in an unexpected downdraft in a rain cloud even as the airport reported clear weather, said a source who was briefed on the investigations, declining to be identified because the findings are not yet public.
 
Investigators are likely to examine whether the Boeing 737-800's onboard wind shear alarm went off, and if it did, when and how the pilot responded, and how the brand-new jet reacted.
 
Indonesia's air transport safety chief Masruri, who goes by one name, declined to give the cause of the crash ahead of its report on the investigation. Local media says it could take up to four months to publish the report.
 
Gleaming Facades
 
As the middle class grows in Southeast Asia, plane travel increases, with low-cost carriers such as Indonesia's privately-owned Lion Air and Malaysia's AirAsia Bhd winning 52 percent of the region's market share. That is almost double the level of five years ago.
 
But behind the facades of the new terminal buildings is a chronic shortage of weather detectors, runways, air traffic control staff and pilots to cope with the burgeoning demand for flying in a region home to 600 million people.
 
None of the airports in Indonesia or the Philippines has low-level wind shear alert systems (LLWAS) on the ground, airport and government officials say.
 
The Jakarta and Bali airports might get LLWAS next year, according to the Indonesian state weather agency, which is responsible for funding such systems.
 
“LLWAS is not yet in place in Indonesia, maybe because of budgets,” said Syamsul Huda, director for aviation and meteorology at the agency. “I feel it is more safe with the system.”
 
The Malaysian island of Langkawi has an Instrument Landing System (ILS), which helps guide pilots when they cannot see the runway, but does not have a wind shear detection system.
 
The Thai island of Koh Samui, famed for its reefs and beaches, lacks both an ILS and wind shear detection systems. The country's top beach resort Phuket has both, and nearby Krabi recently installed a wind shear alarm.
 
Strong winds on approach to the Phuket runway led to pilot errors that resulted in a One-Two-Go plane crashing in 2007, killing 90 people, according to investigators. Budget carrier One-Two-Go, owned by Thai aviation veteran Udom Tantiprasongchai, now flies by the name Orient Thai Airlines.
 
Where’s the Runway?
 
The state-owned airport in Bali has seen its number of passengers grow by two-thirds in the past five years to 14 million people annually, and expects over 20 million in coming years.
 
A $290 million new terminal, to be ready for an APEC summit of world leaders this year, will have a roof shaped like flowing waves that absorbs the sun's rays and recycles storm water. But there's no space for a new runway, with the current one having been extended into the sea already. It is, however, long enough to take U.S. President Barack Obama's Air Force One.
 
The existing runway has no ILS for planes approaching from the western side, as the ill-fated Lion Air jet did. Instead, it has an ILS system for planes coming from the east, and a simpler VOR navigational system that relies on the pilot seeing the runway, from the west.
 
The Lion Air pilots lost sight of the runway in a rain cloud and the plane fell into the water as they tried to go around for a second landing attempt, according to the source briefed on the investigations.
 
NASA helped develop predictive systems for U.S. airlines and airports after the inability to detect wind shear led to a Delta Air Lines Inc crash that killed 137 in 1985. One of the companies manufacturing the ground system is Finland's Vaisala Oyj.
 
Research by Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests there has not been a wind shear-related accident at an airport that operates modern wind shear detection systems. But equipping airports and planes with warning systems is only half the solution - you also need qualified professionals to operate and monitor the devices, and then act with a cool head.
 
In a run-down office at Bali's Ngurah Rai International Airport, the head of air traffic services Tri Basuki says staff do double shifts because he has less than 50 percent of the people needed to operate radar, surveillance and navigation systems.
 
For air traffic control it is even worse. There are only 43 people, or about a third of a government requirement for 115, to guide the airport's average of 330 landing aircraft a day.
 
Basuki said some of the controllers at Bali are suffering from cumulative fatigue.

“When the controller is fatigued, it's high risk, very high risk,” he said.

You May Like

As US Strikes Syria, China Sees Parallels at Home

Beijing is debating how much support to give international coalition against IS militants and trying to figure out how many Chinese nationals may have joined group overseas More

CDC: Ebola Could Infect 1.4 M by 2015

US health officials say if efforts to curb the outbreak are not increased, cases will soar dramatically by early next year More

Video USAID Provides $231 Million for Girls Education in 5 Countries

US Agency for International Development partners with celebrities to call attention to importance of education for girls worldwide More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'i
X
Scott Stearns
September 23, 2014 10:52 PM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video US, Gulf Allies Strike Islamic State Militants in Syria

United States forces have carried out strikes against Islamic State or ISIL militant positions in Syria - the first time Western forces have taken action on Syrian soil. Five U.S. allies from the Gulf joined the military action. Local reports suggest dozens of militants were killed. The U.S. also carried out unilateral missile strikes against a Syria-based terror group which Washington says poses an imminent threat to the West. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video High Intensity Focused Ultrasound Used to Kill Cancer Tumor

There is a new way of killing certain cancer tumors that allows the patient to go home on the same day. Surgeons at the Keck Medical Center of the University of Southern California became the first doctors to use this procedure on a patient with the help of high intensity focused ultrasound, or HIFU, and new robotic technology. Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video USAID Provides $231 Million for Girls Education in Five Countries

Hollywood stars Alicia Keys, Jennifer Garner and 30 others have voiced their support for a U.S.-backed initiative called "Let Girls Learn." The $231 million program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, is aimed at ensuring public and quality education for girls worldwide. As VOA's Mariama Diallo reports, this new program will focus on five countries in Africa, South Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.
Video

Video UN: Relocation of Bedouins in Israel Weakens Two-state Solution

Rural Bedouins living in disputed lands east of Jerusalem could soon find themselves forcibly relocated. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Jerusalem that while Israel defends the move as in the Bedouins’ best interests, the United Nations says the plan threatens the survival of the two-state solution with Palestinians.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Prolonged Drought Plagues SW Oklahoma Farmers

Parts of western Texas and southwestern Oklahoma have been in drought conditions for several years running and the deficit in rainfall has taken a heavy toll on cotton and grain production. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin says the state has suffered $2 billion in agricultural losses since 2011. There has been rain in recent weeks, but, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Altus, Oklahoma, for most farmers it has been too late.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid