Saturday, August 8, 2009

Of flying pigs and ticket scalpers: Papua aviation substandard

The recent deadly crash of a Merpati Nusantara Airways plane in the remote Pegunungan Bintang area of Papua is raising questions about air transport in one of the country's least-developed provinces.

Air travel for most Indonesians is relatively cushy, but not in Papua, where it is a common means of transportation between far-flung areas, thus reducing standards of service and comfort to the same levels seen in public minivans in Java.

Passengers on flights in Papua are as likely to be two-legged as four-legged, including pigs - a common sight in rural areas, because pigs are expensive animals to raise, and usually serve as marriage dowries.

Standard operating procedures for and during flights are largely ignored, including the requirement that passenger names and the names printed on tickets match.
A corollary of this is that passengers rarely have to produce any ID before boarding a plane. If someone buys a ticket and for whatever reason can't travel, then they'll just give it to someone else.

Poor enforcement of regulations has also led to widespread ticket scalping, particularly for tickets to more remote areas on flights run by government-subsidized airlines, such as Merpati, due to the huge disparity between subsidized and non-subsidized air fares. A one-way ticket from Sentani to Oksibil, in Pegunungan Bintang for instance, is Rp 1.2 million (US$120), while a subsidized ticket goes for only Rp 150,000. (A$19.00).

The mismatch of names in the flight manifest with actual passengers is being blamed on scalpers. Only five of the 12 passengers found dead in the wreckage were actually listed.

Planes flying to remote areas are generally small-sized ones, including Twin Otters and Cessnas, which are well-suited for the short rural runways. Several airlines fly these routes, most of them run by missionaries, including AMA, MAF and Jayasi.
Jakarta Post Editorial

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